The Project Gutenberg eBook of A Short History of the Royal Navy, 1217-1815. Volume II, 1689-1815

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Title: A Short History of the Royal Navy, 1217-1815. Volume II, 1689-1815

Author: David Hannay

Release date: February 3, 2019 [eBook #58814]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Brian Coe, MWS and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at







First Published in 1909


I submit this second part of the Short History of the Royal Navy to the kindness of the reader and the animadversions of reviewers with a profound sense of its deficiencies. That some were inevitable where so much had to be told in so narrow a space is no excuse for such errors as I have committed. It is my sincere hope that they are not very frequent nor very gross, and that my book does at least indicate the main outlines of the polity and the achievements of the navy. It is my pleasant duty to thank the Reverend William Hunt for his kindness in revising my proofs, and for the many excellent suggestions he made. I have also to present my thanks to Messrs. Blackwood for giving me their permission to make use in Chapter III. of matter published in Blackwood’s Magazine; and to the proprietors of the Saturday Review for allowing me to make use of articles on the mutinies of 1797, formerly published in that periodical.




I. The War with France till 1693 1
II. Expeditions, Convoy, and the Privateers 49
III. The Men and the Life 80
IV. The Two Colonial Wars 98
V. The Seven Years’ War till 1758 133
VI. The Years of Triumph 166
VII. The American War till 1780 204
VIII. The American War till the Fall of Yorktown 243
IX. The Close of the War and the East Indies 271
X. The First Stage of the War 293
XI. The War till the End of 1797 323
XII. The Mutinies 355
XIII. The Nile 385
XIV. Invasion till the Close of 1801 411
XV. Trafalgar 436
XVI. The Command of the Sea 467
Index 493




Authorities.—Burchett, Memoirs of Transactions at Sea 1688-1697; Lediard, Naval History of England; Colomb, Naval Warfare; Troude, Batailles navales de la France; Delarbre, Tourville et la Marine de son temps; Toudouze, Bataille de la Hougue; Lambert de Sainte-Croix, Marine de France 1689-1792; Code des Armées Navales; Crisenoy, L’Inscription maritime; Calmon-Maison, Châteaurenault; Martin Leake, Life of Sir John Leake; De Jonge, Geschiedenis van het Nederlandsche Zeewesen.

The Revolution of 1688 drew a line across the history of England, and marked the termination of the great struggle between King and Parliament. From that time forward it was settled beyond all dispute that when the two differed the last word was not to be with the king. Our sovereigns have ruled by a Parliamentary title, and the authority which conferred the Crown must always be superior in fact, if not in theory, to the Crown itself. Within Parliament the dominating body must necessarily be the House of Commons, which has the command of the purse. After 1688 the Crown, or the aristocracy, could only govern by securing the support, by means of pocket boroughs, by persuasion or corruption, of a majority of the Lower House. The navy, like the rest of the nation, was deeply affected by the change. From this time forward we hear little of the personal influence of the king. It was to the House of Commons that the navy appealed. Officers who wished to push their fortunes no longer thought of [2]securing the goodwill of the sovereign or of a favourite. They became members of the House of Commons and earned promotion by serving a Parliamentary party. In one way the change was for the manifest good of the navy. It now had a master who might be unwilling to pay handsomely, but who both would and could pay whatever he chose to promise with a regularity far beyond the power of the king. In the years following the Revolution there were indeed complaints of wages in arrear and of necessities neglected. But this was only during the first period of strife. The increasing wealth of the nation supplied Parliament with ample means, and after a time the money was always regularly forthcoming. In another way the change was not so good. A great deal of party spirit was introduced into the navy, and there were times when Whig and Tory animosities interfered with the loyal discharge of duty.

The Revolution also dates, if it did not cause, an evolution in the navy. After 1688 the sea service was sharply marked off from the army. During the reign of King James it had not been uncommon to find men who had served alternately as soldiers and sailors, while some held double employments. Isolated cases of the kind may be met with later, but they became very rare, and soon disappeared altogether. The formation of a large standing army, and the participation of England in Continental wars, drew off the gentlemen volunteers who had been found in the fleets of Charles II. The stamp of man described in old plays as “a coxcomb but stout,” had a natural preference for the army. It did not take him off dry land, and the practice of retiring into winter quarters enabled him to combine a great deal of pleasure with his fighting. A ship was at all times but a prison, and in those it was a prison very much overcrowded and abounding in foul smells. The navy was left entirely to the tarpaulin who had been bred to the sea, and could endure its hardships.

The final victory of the tarpaulin element in the corps of naval officers brought with it both good and evil. The good lay in their seamanship. Even a bad seaman is better than an ignorant or careless landsman in command of a ship. The purely technical part of the navy’s work, that which consisted in the mere handling of the vessel, was better done in [3]the years following the Revolution than had been the case before, except during the Interregnum, when also the sailors had been the predominant element. The evil which came was of a kind not to be wholly attributed to the disappearance of the military officer from the higher ranks of the fleet. It was that there was a distinct fall in the purely military spirit, and as a navy is a fighting as well as a navigating force, this was a misfortune. When we speak of a fallen military spirit, it is not meant that there was any sinking in the mere courage of the service, but only that the naval officer as he became at the Revolution and as he remained till far into the eighteenth century, was first and foremost a seaman, and that he had a tendency to discharge the military side of his duty in blind obedience to various rules of thumb. Two reasons may be assigned for this. Times of revolution are very often followed by times of lassitude. The seventeenth century had been very stormy, and it was to be expected that the Englishman of the following generations would be a less daring and original man than his ancestor of the Civil War time. The sailors shared in the general deadening and commonplaceness of their age. It was only natural that men who went to sea as boys, and were never asked to be more than sailors, should not have tried to be more. Then it was the misfortune of the navy that just at a time when it was tending to stupidity in military conduct, it was called upon by authority to obey a set of hard and fast rules.

Mention has already been made of the fighting orders drawn up by the admirals of the Commonwealth at the close of the First Dutch War, and reissued by Penn when he sailed on his expedition to San Domingo. It will be remembered that these rules established the line ahead as the regular formation for a fleet about to engage the enemy. After the Second Dutch War they were reissued by the Duke of York with certain additions of his own, and they became the orthodox pattern for the navy’s method of fighting. It is to them that we owe it that the line of battle passed from being the order adopted for the purpose of coming most effectually into action with the enemy, and grew to be regarded as an end in itself. The duke’s orders would not perhaps have hampered a more original generation; but they were sure [4]to have a deadening effect upon men who felt no natural impulse to think. The admiral who conformed to the orders could always plead that he had obeyed authority, whereas if he departed from them, and his independence was not justified by a brilliant victory, he would be in considerable danger of being accused of insubordination. The harm done by these instructions arose mainly from two of the articles. No. VIII. lays it down that “if the enemy stay to fight (his majesty’s fleet having the wind), the headmost squadron of his majesty’s fleet shall steer for the headmost of the enemy’s ships.” No. XVI. contains the following peremptory instruction: “In all cases of fight with the enemy, the commanders of his majesty’s ships are to keep the fleet in one line, and (as much as may be) to preserve that order of battle which they have been directed to keep before the time of fight.” The duke had foreseen that an English fleet, being to leeward, might wish to force on a battle. In this case it was directed that the van upon obtaining a favourable position for the purpose, should tack and break through the enemy. So soon as it had broken through it was to turn, and attack from windward. In the meantime the centre and rear were to remain to leeward, and co-operate with the van. But this was a very difficult manœuvre to carry out against even a moderately efficient opponent. Ships performing it would be liable to lose spars and to drift to leeward towards their own centre. Moreover, an enemy who kept his wind and stood on might possibly file past, and so deliver the fire of all, or the greater part, of his ships into the unsupported English van. Article III., which prescribed this method of attack, remained a mere counsel of perfection, and was soon dropped out of the fighting orders. It was, I venture to affirm, never acted on except by Howe on the 29th of May 1794, and then with only partial success.

The course followed by English admirals was less complicated and risky than this, but also less likely to prove effectual when fully carried out. When they were to leeward and the enemy would not attack them, they manœuvred to gain the weather-gage. When they had the wind of the enemy, they came down on him with their fleet in line—the leading ship of the English steering for the leading ship [5]of the enemy, and the others behind for their respective opponents. Thus the two fleets engaged van to van, centre to centre, rear to rear. To take “every man his bird” was the familiar naval image for a well-conducted action with an enemy who did not shirk. Of course this method only applied to the case where the two fleets were going in the same direction. If one turned, the two would pass one another, and then they must curl round again before the action could be resumed. The advantage of engaging the enemy from the leading ship to the last was this, that it prevented any portion of his ships from tacking, and so putting some of the English between two fires. The drawback was that if the two fleets were even not very unequal, no overwhelming superiority was developed on either side at a chosen point. The damage done was about equivalent, and the two separated without decisive result. This would not have been the case if the admirals after the Revolution had been as ready as the chiefs of the Dutch wars to depart from their line when once it had served its purpose of bringing them in contact with the enemy. If the captains had been allowed to steer through the hostile line wherever they could find or make an opening, a general mêlée must have ensued, and the battle would have been fought out. But here came in the influence of Article No. XVI., which prescribed the retention of the “same order” all through the battle. If an English captain stood out of the line to press through the enemy, it must necessarily be broken. But this was rigidly forbidden. Therefore the system of fighting adopted by our navy at the close of the seventeenth century made it inevitable that our admirals would attack from windward, would spread themselves all along the enemy’s line, that the damage done would be pretty equally divided between the two fleets, and that the enemy, having the road to leeward open, could retire whenever he pleased.

The Revolution brought no considerable alteration in the mere administrative machinery of the navy. From that time forward the office of Lord High Admiral was habitually put into commission, but the change was made for the purpose of finding the greatest number of places for Parliamentary supporters, and was in substance not very different from the [6]method adopted by the Commonwealth, by Charles I., and by James I. It was of more importance that the reign of William III. saw the complete establishment of half pay. The later Stuarts had granted allowances to flag officers and a few captains, but the Parliament of the Revolution first regularly provided for the support of a body of officers of all commissioned ranks when not in active service. This also was inevitable if the country was to maintain a regular staff for the fleet. It was neither possible to maintain the navy continually on a war footing, nor to disband the whole corps of officers so soon as peace was signed, and trust to forming another when the need had arisen.

The establishment made by King James II. in 1686 fell with its maker. The handsome table-money allowance was not paid after the Revolution, and the officers were thus thrown back on the old scale of pay. This meant that the captain of a first-rate who had flattered himself with the hope of receiving £535, 18s. 4d. per annum found that he was in fact only entitled to £285, 18s. 4d. Captains of the lesser rates were disappointed in proportion. At the same time the regulations depriving them of convoy money, and restricting their chances of casual gains, were more strictly enforced. The trading classes had won great power by the Revolution, and could put pressure on the House of Commons, and they were not unnaturally eager to defend themselves against extortion. Their case was good, but the grievance of the naval officer was not the less genuine. Yet the loss of King James’s establishment was probably not much regretted by the navy at large, since it benefited the captains only. Other ranks had their grievances. The complaints of the sea officers were so loud and persistent that at last the Government was compelled to do them some justice. By an Order of the Commissioners of the Admiralty dated 14th February 1694, it was established that the sea pay “of the flag officers, commanders, lieutenants, masters and surgeons of their majesty’s ships be increased to as much more as it is at present.” As a set off to this the number of servants they were entitled to take to sea at the expense of the Crown was reduced. With this provision for the officers on active service came the formation of a half-pay list. It was somewhat [7]arbitrarily constructed. The benefit was confined to “all flag officers and commanders of ships of the first, second, third, fourth and fifth rates, and of fireships, and also the first lieutenants and masters of the first, second and third rates who have served a year in ships of rates respectively, or have been in a general engagement with the enemy, and shall have performed their duties to the satisfaction of the Lord High Admiral of England or the Commissioners executing that office.” These were to “be allowed half pay during their being on shore in time of peace at home.”

This establishment was too good to last. When the Peace of Ryswick was made, the country was burdened with a heavy debt. The House of Commons was in an economical mood. It insisted upon disbanding a large part of the troops, and was only prevented from leaving the officers entirely without support by the strenuous exertions of the king. William III. made no effort to save the naval officers, for the House of Commons had no such jealousy of the fleet as of the army. The sea officers presented a petition stating their hard case. The petition was laid on the table in a busy session, and was for a time smothered, but in the following year the Commons took up the case of the naval officers, and the result was the establishment of April 1700. This new scheme cut down the rate of pay allowed during the last six years. According to a tolerably uniform practice, the reduction was less severe with the higher than with the lower ranks. While the Admiral of the Fleet was reduced from £6 to £5 per diem, a captain of a fifth-rate was reduced from 12s. to 8s. But while the House of Commons was thus economising the whole pay, it fully recognised the necessity of maintaining a “competent number of Experienced Sea Officers, supported on Shore, who may be within reach to answer any sudden or immergent Occasion; and therefore do humbly propose the number of Flag Officers, Captains, Lieutenants, and Masters following, to be always supported on Shore while out of Employment, by the Allowances against their Names exprest.” The scale drawn up by Parliament provided for 9 admirals at sums ranging from 17s. 6d. per diem for the Rear-Admiral to £2, 10s. for the Admiral of the Fleet. For 50 captains who had served during the “late war,” at 10s. a day for [8]20 and 8s. for 30. For 100 lieutenants who had seen service, in the following proportions: 40 at 2s. 6d. and 60 at 2s. For 30 masters, of whom one half were to receive 2s. 6d. and the other half 2s. per diem. The total half-pay charge of that time was only £18,113. No officer who took service with the merchants, or had other employment, was to be entitled to the allowance. As officers on the half-pay list died or were drawn for active service, an equal number of others who were duly qualified were to step into the enjoyment of the allowance. It will be seen that this was at best a half measure. Many men who deserved to be supported were left without provision, yet the House of Commons had adopted the principle of granting half pay, and that was a great step towards the complete establishment of the rule that all who served the State were entitled to be maintained at its expense, even when they were not immediately wanted. It is in this tentative way, not by great administrative schemes, but by small measures meant to meet a present necessity, that the whole of the organisation of our navy has grown. At the close of the reign of Queen Anne the right to half pay was made general.

One other great change directly affecting the navy was brought about by the Revolution. The expulsion of King James left England free to become the leader, and the main promoter, of the opposition to Louis XIV. From that time forward our enemy was always France. When we met the Spaniard or the Dutchman again, it was with very rare exceptions because they were allies of the French. The resistance to Louis XIV. grew into a general colonial and political rivalry between France and England. The fight was prolonged throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth. Some knowledge of the navy we were to meet in every sea and in so many battles during a century and a quarter is necessary in any history of the Royal Navy.

The French Navy is marked off very sharply from our own by the fact that it was always, and solely, the handiwork of the Crown. In England necessity taught the nation that it must have a fleet, and the nation either forced attention to its wants on the Crown at times when the king was indifferent, or provided itself with a naval force when the royal authority was [9]suspended or subordinate. France is admirably placed for commerce, but it has not the same need for trade as England. It is a great corn-growing and wine-producing country, and its inhabitants have grown rich by constant industry and thrift. They have rarely shown much faculty for trade on a great scale. In such conditions the navy fell into neglect, except when the ruler wished to possess one for political reasons. When Louis XIV. attained his majority vigorous efforts were made to form a powerful fleet. In 1669 the king restored the office of Admiral, which had been suspended by Richelieu, in favour of his natural son the Count of Vermandois. The Count was a child and the navy was governed in his name by a Minister of Marine and a Council. The Minister of Marine for some years was M. de Lyonne, who worked under the supervision of Colbert. This great administrator, who laboured hard to supply France with foreign commerce and colonies, applied an almost feverish activity to the work of creating a fleet. Five military ports were established, namely, Dunkirk, Havre, Brest, Rochefort, on the Channel and the Ocean, and Toulon on the Mediterranean. Dunkirk and Havre were too shallow for ships of great burden. The long stretch of coast from Brest to the frontier of Spain is ill provided with harbours. The old port of Brouage, which had been used in the Middle Ages, had become silted up, and was useless. Colbert was compelled to create a harbour and an arsenal at Rochefort, where there had formerly not even been a village, though the place has great natural aptitude. Yet Rochefort has always been of subordinate importance. The great naval station of France on the Ocean has been at the magnificent harbour of Brest. Toulon, the naval station of the Mediterranean, is also a fine natural harbour. The mechanical ingenuity of the French has always been shown in shipbuilding. It was comparatively easy for Colbert to provide fine vessels. Some of the noblest warships of the time were built under his directions. These were the ships which excited the admiration of Charles II. and his brother, when the Count D’Estrées brought his squadron to Portsmouth at the beginning of the Third Dutch War.

It was less easy to form a corps of officers and to collect crews. Although France possesses some excellent seamen in [10]Normandy and Brittany, the maritime population has never been large. There were few experienced officers, either gentleman or tarpaulin, to command the king’s ships. The seamen of Dieppe, St. Malo, or Havre were daring. They had invaded the Spanish West Indies before Hawkins made his first voyage, but they were not numerous enough to supply the king with an equivalent for the large body of ship’s captains trained among ourselves by the Civil War and the wars with the Dutch. Besides, they were hardly the men to whom a king of France would have cared to entrust the honour of his flag. In the early years of the king’s reign it was found necessary to give the command of fleets and individual ships to mere gentlemen who were not only not seamen, but who looked down upon those who were, with all the contempt usually shown by the French noblesse for mechanics. This partly accounts for the ineptitude shown by French naval officers during the naval campaigns of 1672 and 1673. The exertions of Colbert did much to remedy this defect. By twenty years of hard work and the most energetic driving, he formed a naval organisation. The orders issued for this purpose were so numerous that it was found necessary to reduce them to a Code. Colbert began the work, but did not live to finish it. On his death in 1683 he was succeeded by his son Colbert de Seignelay, who continued what his father had begun. The famous Ordonnance, or Code of Law of the old French Royal Navy, was at last completed, and by a curious coincidence it was promulgated in April 1689, in the month before the beginning of the war with England.

This body of laws, or regulations, was very French in its completeness, its air of logical coherence, and its excessive regulation, of every detail of the service. It was contained in twenty-three books. It divided the French Navy into four branches, three civil and one military. The three civil branches, collectively known as La Plume, or the Pen, were divided between the purchase, manufacture, and care of materials. The administration of the dockyards was in the hands of the Pen. At the head of each dockyard was a civil officer, called the Intendant de la marine. The military branch, called L’Epée, or the Sword, consisted of the naval officers. It was entrusted with the navigation and the fighting of the [11]ships. Under the old organisation established by Richelieu, the control of the dockyards had been given to the Sword; but Colbert, who was a civilian, and who cherished a lively jealousy of the military officers, had reversed this arrangement. The Sword was never quite reconciled to its degradation, and its feuds with the Pen went on until the French Royal Navy was destroyed by the Revolution. While Colbert lived and the king was young, the central authority was strong enough to compel obedience, but in later years all the parade of precision in the language of the Ordonnance, and all the power of the king, could not keep the civil and military officials from quarrelling, from disobeying orders, and disputing the meaning of the most exactly worded regulations.

The head of the Sword was naturally the Admiral of France, who was a member of the royal family, and except in the case of the Count of Toulouse, a dignified figurehead, and not an effective chief. His administrative work was done by the Minister of Marine and the Council. Next to the Admiral came the two Vice-Admirals, Du Levant the Mediterranean, and Du Ponant the Ocean, who commanded in chief when he was absent, each in his own sea. The next rank was that of Lieutenant-General. We may say for purposes of comparison that the Admiral of France answered to our Lord High Admiral, and the Vice-Admirals to our Admirals, while the Lieutenants-General answered to our Vice-Admirals. Next came an officer happily unparalleled in our service. This was the Intendant des armées navales, who is not to be confounded with the Intendant de marine. He was a civilian who accompanied every French squadron, and had supreme authority over the Commissaires, or Pursers, and the civil work in all its branches. But he had also a right to sit on councils of war, and was authorised to report on the behaviour of the naval chief in action. The Intendant des armées navales was in fact a French equivalent for the Dutch Field Deputies, and he acted in exactly the same way, by hampering the fighting chief when he was an energetic man, and by reducing him to submission when he was a weak one, and of course by irritating and exaggerating the jealousies of the Pen and the Sword. He was a spy whose word could make or mar the fortunes of a naval officer, and yet was not [12]a competent judge of the naval officer’s work. That Colbert should have created such a rank, and that it should have been preserved by the very able men who succeeded him in the government of the French Navy, shows that they were all blinded by the professional jealousy of the civil official for the fighting man, and by the Frenchman’s mania for over-governing.

The next in rank was the Chef d’Escadre, Rear-Admiral or Commodore. Then we have another civil official, the Commissaire Général à la suite des armées navales, a subordinate of the Intendant des armées navales, who watched the Captain as his superior did the Admiral. The order of precedence in a French ship could not offer much novelty. There was the Capitaine du Vaisseau, or Post-Captain, and the Capitaine du Brûlot, or Captain of a fireship. The second in command was called the Major. He commanded the soldiers in the ship’s company, and all landing parties. Then came the Lieutenant, and after him the Enseigne. The recruiting of the corps of officers was provided for by the Gardes de la marine. There were three companies of the Gardes: one at Brest, one at Rochefort, and one at Toulon. They were mostly young men of gentle birth—that is, members of the noblesse who had a right to a coat of arms and to the privileges of their caste,—but members of respectable families who had received the education of gentlemen were admitted. They were supposed to receive a very thorough professional training, and to be drafted into the ships when qualified. The fact did not always square with the theory. It was found that young gentlemen of good family and some influence were kept to their books with great difficulty. A certain number of them did no doubt attain to a level of book-knowledge very rare among our officers, but the whole history of the eighteenth century is at hand to prove that as a class they were inferior in practical capacity to the men brought up in the rough school of the English Navy.

The crews were raised by the classes, the predecessors of the Inscription maritime, a great system of naval conscription. Like so much else in France, this also was founded by Richelieu, but it was perfected by Lyonne and Colbert, and was finally established by the Ordonnance of 1689. All Frenchmen engaged in working in ships or boats throughout the whole coast of France, and on the banks of rivers large [13]enough to carry a lighter, were held to be subject to serve in the classes. They were divided into seven, which were to serve successively for periods of four years. All seafaring men, waterman or lighterman, were inscribed on the lists of the Commissioner of the District. During the four years of their liability to serve the king they were not allowed to engage with private employers. It was calculated that the total number subject to service was 60,000. The obligation began at the age of ten, and lasted till the man was too old to work. As a compensation for this unlimited obligation a retaining fee was promised to men not serving, and those who had served at sea were entitled to a small pension when their period of liability to service was over; while hospitals were established at all the ports, and employment in the dockyards was promised to all who were so severely hurt as to be unable to go to sea, but were still capable of doing some work. This famous institution exists in a modified form to-day, and has often been the subject of admiration among ourselves. On paper it no doubt possessed immense advantages over our rough-and-ready system, or no system, of raising crews by bounties and impressment. Yet whenever the French Crown endeavoured to use all the resources provided by the classes, the neatly constructed machine broke down. The seafaring population rebelled against its severity, and in practice the king was constantly driven to impress men very much in the English fashion, without regard to their class. In the last years of the reign of King Louis and until the Revolution, the financial distress of the French Government made it impossible to provide half pay, and the hospitals were neglected. The classes was in fact a more uniform and grinding oppression than our own impressment, and was not more efficient in producing crews.

In truth, the merit of the French organisation was altogether more on paper than in reality. It looked very coherent and beautifully divided, but its distinctions and divisions answered to no natural classifications in the work to be done. For instance, to make the Sword responsible for fitting out the ships and yet to leave the control of the dockyards to the Pen was simply to provide for incessant conflicts of authority between the two, and to divide the responsibility. [14]The English system of putting a retired naval officer at the head of the dockyard as Commissioner was incomparably simpler and better. It is needless to point out that nothing could be more fatal to the independence of character of an officer commanding a fleet than the presence of the Intendant des armées navales. But the spirit of the Ordonnance is best shown by the article which forbade the captain to make any kind of changes in the armament of his ship. It was no doubt necessary to guard against mere eccentricity, but if such a regulation as this had been enforced in the English Navy it might never have had the carronade, and would certainly have had to do without the many improvements in gunnery introduced by Sir Charles Douglas in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. The Ordonnance was full of that over-regulation which is the ruin of all independence of character and originality of mind. Other faults the French Navy had which arose out of the social condition of France. The officers were one of the many privileged corps which ended by destroying the French monarchy. They stood much on their rights, and were above all extremely jealous of the admission of colleagues who were not of noble birth.

When King William’s Government was able to settle down after the confusion of the Revolution, one of its first duties was the reconquest of Ireland, which was still holding out for King James. Louis XIV. was giving open support to his cousin, and war had really begun in March, two months before the formal declaration, when a French squadron under the command of Louis Gabaret landed King James at Kinsale. The material force at the disposal of the English Government was considerable. It consisted of 173 vessels of 101,892 tons, carrying 6930 guns, and requiring when fully manned 42,003 men. Of the 173 vessels 108 were rated. The rating of English ships, which had first been settled according to the number of their crews, was now based on the number of guns. There were six rates in all—the first carrying 90 guns and upwards, the sixth 18 guns or less; unrated ships were little craft such as sloops, ketches, smacks, yachts, etc. With the help of the Dutch fleet, this was more than enough to be a match for the French, but Parliament was justly persuaded of the necessity for increasing [15]the Navy. In 1690 it voted £570,000, to be employed in the building of 17 ships of 80 guns and 10 ships of 60. Three of 70 were also ordered to be built, making the total addition of 30 vessels. The 80-gun ships of that time were three-deckers, and of a burden of 1100 tons. The 60-gun ships were of 900 tons. The time allowed for completing this list was four years. In spite of the wear and tear of the war, and the limited number of prizes we were able to take from the French, the additions made to the navy in the reign of William III. were very considerable. It increased from 108 to 174 rated ships, and in tonnage from 101,000 to 158,999. The increase was greatest in vessels of the fourth and fifth rates—that is, in vessels carrying from 30 to 60 guns. The political confusion of the early years of the king’s reign combined with corruption to neutralise the material strength of the navy to some extent. It was the policy of the king to divide employments between the two parties to which he looked for support, the Whigs, and those Tories who had accepted the Revolution. In pursuit of this policy his first Board of Admiralty was chosen from both. Arthur Herbert, who was a Tory, was made First Commissioner. Other members of the Board belonged to the same party, but it included William Sacheverell, who was a strong Whig. The presence of men belonging to different factions in the same governing body was sure to lead to dissensions, and it was not long before the quarrels of the Admiralty Board became very violent. In order to facilitate the manning of the fleet two new regiments of marines were raised. The admiral’s regiment had been disbanded because it was suspected of being too much attached to the deposed king. The new corps were formally established in 1690, but the work of recruiting them was begun in 1689. They were raised by Herbert, who had been created Earl of Torrington after an action about to be mentioned, and by the Earl of Pembroke, and were named, according to the custom of the time, after their colonels. By the first establishment they were to consist of 12 companies each of 200 men; but the number of companies was afterwards increased to 15.

As for the sailors, it is needless to say that they were raised in the usual manner. Although much was done for [16]the officers in this reign, the men were no better paid than before. Their wages remained throughout the century at the figure fixed in the reign of Charles II., and were not increased till a rise was extorted by the mutinies of 1797. The main grievance of the seamen was not so much the amount as the irregular payment of their wages. In the earlier times after the Revolution they were kept waiting because the Government was in want of money, but the system of pay subjected them to long delays even when the resources at the disposal of the Government were ample. It had been the custom in the old days of the Winter and Summer Guard to pay the men only at the end of the commission. This was no hardship when the term of service lasted only a few months. But the practice was continued when we had begun to maintain fleets abroad for years together. In King William’s reign the injustice did not reach the height it was destined to attain later on, yet the men were often driven to sell their pay tickets at a heavy discount because the distresses of the Treasury, or the delays due to a complicated system of accounts, kept them waiting during months for their hard-earned wages.

The great bulk of the officers who had served King James passed over to his successor. A few, indeed, followed the exiled king, and among them was Sir Roger Strickland, who as a Roman Catholic was disqualified for office. Captain David Lloyd also adhered to his master, and was very busy during the years next ensuing in endeavouring to shake the new allegiance of his former brother-officers. In this, however, he had no success. In spite of discontent, and although some naval officers endeavoured to provide for their own safety in case of a restoration by sending promises to King James, the navy as a whole remained loyal.

The war now beginning lasted with an interval of truce between 1697 and 1702, until the signing of the Peace of Utrecht, in the reign of Queen Anne. It was in reality one continuous war waged by Europe in self-defence, and by France for the purpose of establishing the predominance of the house of Bourbon. The naval part of this struggle is divided into two periods. During the first, which lasted to the close of 1793, the French king kept great fleets at sea. [17]After that date the exhaustion of his treasury through the calls made upon it by the land war rendered him incapable of meeting the allies at sea with equal forces. He was driven by penury to lay up his ships, and the war on the side of France was conducted by privateers. In this second period the allied fleets still kept the sea, swept the French coast, and co-operated with the armies.

When hostilities began in 1689, the first object of the French was to give assistance to King James in Ireland. The first duty of the English was to defeat his efforts, and then to cover the passage of our own forces. The Dutch had to protect their own commerce and to co-operate with us in the general purposes of the war.

The news that the French king was about to supply his cousin with the means of passing over to Ireland reached London early in March. A squadron was prepared to sail for the purpose of intercepting Gabaret, but it started too late. Herbert, who went in command without resigning his place as First Commissioner of the Admiralty, did not reach Cork until the 17th of April. All he could do now was to intercept whatever further help the French might be sending to the assistance of the Jacobites. He knew that a force was preparing at Brest under the command of the Count of Châteaurenault. Not finding any sign of this expedition on the coast of Ireland, Herbert stood over to Brest. Either at this time, or shortly afterwards, he detached George Rooke with a small squadron to the west of Scotland, for the double purpose of rendering what help he could to the Protestants of Ulster and preventing the French from sending help to the Scottish Jacobites. The wind was easterly on the coast of France, and Herbert failed to reach Brest in time, or to approach it close enough to prevent Châteaurenault from sailing with a fleet of vessels of from 40 to 60 guns, 5 fireships, and a number of transports carrying 6000 soldiers. Finding that the French had escaped him, Herbert returned to the south coast of Ireland, and was off Cork on the 29th April. The French fleet were seen in the neighbourhood of Kinsale, and Herbert stood in to place himself between them and the coast. Châteaurenault made no attempt to land at Kinsale, but steered west for Bantry. At Baltimore, Herbert obtained [18]information of his enemy’s destination. He at once pursued, but on rounding Cape Clear caught sight of the Frenchmen heading for Bantry Bay. This was on the afternoon of the 30th of April. The day being far advanced, Herbert did not follow Châteaurenault at once, but lay to all the night. The force under his command is variously stated as nineteen and twenty-two ships of the line. The average size of the English ships was about the same as the French.

On the 1st of May the wind was blowing off the land. Châteaurenault had disembarked as many of the soldiers as were carried in the men-of-war on the previous evening. But the transports were still undischarged, and had not yet been able to work up to the town of Bantry. Seeing that the English were somewhat, though not much, inferior in number to himself, the French admiral came to the very proper decision to engage. He got under way about half-past eleven, and stood down the Bay. As he had the weather-gage, he had the choice of attack. Herbert lay to to receive him. At the moment of getting under way the French fleet was in order of convoy, that is, in three parallel columns; Châteaurenault himself in the middle, with the van division under the command of Gabaret on one side, and the rear commanded by Forant on the other. When the order to draw into a line of battle was given, Gabaret should have stood on ahead, leaving a sufficient space for the admiral’s division between himself and Forant. But he moved so slowly and kept his wind at such a distance from the enemy that Châteaurenault in a fit of impatience crowded on sail, ran between the van division and the English, and took the place of van himself, thus leaving Gabaret to fall in behind and form the centre. In consequence of these misunderstandings the French line was in considerable disorder, which was increased by the fact that the narrow water of Bantry Bay left little room for manœuvring, and that the fleet was speedily compelled to tack. It would appear that these conditions ought to have afforded Herbert an opportunity for working to windward and forcing a close action with the enemy. It is, indeed, asserted that he made an attempt to gain the weather-gage, and could not do so because the French kept their wind so carefully. Thus the battle was confined to artillery fire at a considerable distance, and no [19]great harm was done on either side. The French make an unfounded claim to have sunk an English ship. On the other hand, it is allowed that the French Diamant, Captain Coëtlogon, was set on fire. The biographer of Sir John Leake, who served in the battle as commander of the fireship Firedrake, claims the honour of this achievement for his hero. He says that the feat was performed by a “cushee piece” invented by Leake’s father, the Master-gunner of England. But the cushee piece was never heard of again, as Captain John Leake judged it to be as dangerous to its friends as its enemies, for which independence of judgment he was badly treated in the will of his indignant parent. The two fleets continued onwards in a disorderly way and firing at one another over a distance of twenty-one miles till they were off Dursey Head, then Châteaurenault, finding that he was being drawn out to sea, and remembering that he was answerable for the safety of the transports, returned to Bantry Bay. Herbert, satisfied that enough had been done, made for the general rendezvous of the fleet near the Scilly Isles, thereby leaving Châteaurenault free to complete the disembarkation of his soldiers, collect his transports, and return to Brest. His whole expedition had lasted only for eleven days, and was considered by the French a glorious success.

This estimate shows that the French took a modest view of what constituted success in naval operations. Châteaurenault, if he had pushed his attack home on Herbert, might have had some English prizes to show, and might have greatly encouraged the enemies of England, besides landing his soldiers and bringing off his transports. But he at least had some case. What is extraordinary, when we think what had been once the standard of the English navy, was that Herbert bragged of having gained a victory because he had not been routed by an enemy of slightly superior force, and that his countrymen, instead of laughing at him, or asking indignantly why he did not fight again, threw up their caps and huzzaed. The battle, and the praise given it, were melancholy signs of the poorness of spirit which had come over Englishmen since the Second Dutch War. It was the beginning of a dull method of doing work in the navy, happily never universal, but much too common, during the next half [20]century or more. We see the French admiral intent on carrying out some operation other than attacking the English fleet, fighting a little, but with great care not to fight seriously. Opposite him is the English admiral, who has no idea that a decisive battle is possible unless the enemy is good enough to supply him with one, and perfectly ready to go off so soon as a few broken spars give him an excuse for saying enough has been done. Herbert went on from Scilly to Portsmouth. The king may not in his heart have thought much of the battle, but he knew the necessity of pleasing the naval officers and the great Tory party. He therefore professed himself satisfied, knighted two of the captains, John Ashby and Cloudesley Shovell, and made Herbert Earl of Torrington.

Rooke, on being detached by Herbert, had gone on at once to the west of Scotland. He was in the estuary of the Clyde in May, and for about a month was very active against King James’s partisan in the islands. On the 8th of June he was called off to escort Kirke, who had been detached with a body of troops for the purpose of raising the siege of Londonderry. Rooke’s squadron consisted of five vessels, one of which was the Dartmouth, now under the command of Leake, who had been promoted for his use of the cushee piece on the 1st of May. The squadron anchored in Rathlin Bay, and from thence went off to Lough Foyle, whence there is a clear waterway up to Londonderry. From what happened a month later, it may be taken for granted that nothing whatever prevented the smaller ships from being carried up to Londonderry, nothing, that is, except a want of goodwill and manhood on the part of Kirke and Rooke. Unfortunately, they were wanting. Rooke was indeed a brave man who did gallant service in later years. But his conduct in these weeks was not worthy of his later reputation. Kirke was a drunken, violent, foul-mouthed ruffian. It is idle to speculate what was passing in his head. He may not have been a mere coward, but he acted as if he had some hidden reason for not exerting himself. He held a council of war on board the Swallow, and it was decided that as there were not troops enough to operate against the enemy outside the town, nothing could be done, as if it would not have been much to carry provisions and a reinforcement of men into Londonderry. He retired [21]to the Island of Inch, and there remained perfectly quiescent. Rooke in the meantime cruised in search of French privateers and Jacobite prizes. Whatever his motives may have been, his actions were those of a man who thought it no shame to fill his own pockets by prize-hunting while his countrymen were starving and fighting in desperation on the turf walls of Londonderry. At last, under the influence of pressing orders from England, it was decided to do something, and something was done in a way which covers with ignominy the memory of the officers who did not dare to act before. During the month of delay, due to their sloth or half-hearted treason, the besiegers had had time to throw up batteries on the banks of the Foyle, and to draw a boom across the river below Londonderry. The operation was therefore more difficult than it had been, and yet it was done with no great loss. On the 26th July the Dartmouth was told off to break the boom, and convoy two victuallers, the Mountjoy and the Phœnix, small vessels both belonging to Londonderry. Leake performed his work in a thoroughly officer-like fashion. So soon as the flood-tide began to run, and there was water enough to float the Dartmouth and victuallers, he stood into the mouth of the Foyle, with the Mountjoy and Phœnix, towing behind him the long boat of the Swallow. The Irish batteries opened fire, but the little squadron held on steadily, the Dartmouth giving all the cover she could to the merchant ships. Their progress was slow for the wind was light, and the tide was not yet running strongly. The Mountjoy reached the boom first, and was steered straight at it by her skipper Browning. The victualler had not enough way to break through the obstacle. She recoiled from the boom and tailed on shore, that is to say, she grounded stern first. The Irish raised a yell of gratification, and rushed down to the bank, where they opened a heavy fire on the Mountjoy. Browning was shot dead, but his men fired a broadside on the crowd. The shock, aided by the tide, floated the Mountjoy. In the meantime the long-boat towed by the Dartmouth had rowed up to the boom, and, undeterred by the musket fire from the banks, had cut through the ropes which held the spars together, and had made an opening. Then she towed the Phœnix in. The Mountjoy and the Dartmouth easily forced their way through the loosened [22]spars. The disheartened besiegers broke up their camp and marched away. It was a gallant piece of work, well done by Leake and the merchant skippers, but the ease, and the trifling cost with which it was done, are lasting reproaches to Kirke and Rooke.

After the relief of Londonderry, Rooke had other important work to do in the Irish Sea. In August he covered the transport of Schomberg’s army to Ireland, and co-operated in the capture of Carrickfergus. Then he cruised down the coast, threatening the towns held for King James, and landing where the enemy was not too strong to be attacked. As the autumn drew on, and his ships became foul, Rooke came round to the Downs, and his squadron was laid up for the winter. In the meantime, the Grand Fleet of combined English and Dutch had cruised in the Channel under the command of Herbert, who was joined by Edward Russell. They looked into Brest, and cruised at the mouth of the Channel, going every now and then into Torbay for provisions. There were many complaints of the want of beer. At last, when the autumn had begun, the Grand Fleet also came back, and was laid up. It was still not thought prudent to keep the great ships out late in the autumn.

On a general survey of the operations of the year it cannot be said that either party had displayed much energy. The French fleet had done nothing proportionate to its pretensions and its paper strength. In 1692, the King of France was believed to possess 110 rated ships and 690 other vessels of war. This figure is of course absurd, unless we are to suppose that it included all the lighters and row boats employed in his harbours. The fleet carried 14,670 cannon, and was manned by 2500 officers and 97,500 men. We may presume that this estimate covers the dockyard workmen. Ninety-seven thousand five hundred men was more than the whole number of Frenchmen liable to be drawn by the classes, and it is very doubtful whether the French king ever had the service at sea of one-half of them at any given moment. Still, when all deductions are allowed for, this was a great force. It had done nothing in proportion to its size. There would have been no difficulty, considering that all Ireland except the north was in the hands of King James, in [23]establishing a naval station at Bantry Bay, or even at Dublin, and from either of these ports the French could have done something effectual to stop the passage of Schomberg’s army. They were content to land their troops in Ireland, and then to return. But we certainly did very little to prevent them, and the feeble conduct of Herbert in the action of Bantry Bay promised very ill for the future.

The winter afforded the English Government an opportunity to prepare for a vigorous campaign, but it was neglected. The first joy over the Revolution was followed by a reaction. The two sections of the victorious party, the Whig and the Tory, began to quarrel and to struggle for predominance. These factions were nowhere more acutely felt than at the Admiralty. It is said by several authorities, and denied by nobody, that Herbert had fallen back into the dissolute habits of his early life. He was addicted to excesses which are ruinous to a man’s nerve and energy. It is certain that the work of the Admiralty was so badly done that the French privateers were very successful against our trade. In the new establishment of pay, made in 1694, it was said that the increase of salary was given in order that the officers might no longer be able to make their poverty an excuse for not doing their duty. Given the moral level of the Restoration and the Revolution, it is not incredible that captains, who were sulky at the loss of their table money, did refuse to exert themselves in defence of the merchant ships unless they were bribed. The old complaints of bad rations, bad pay, and bad beer were loud in the fleet. At last it was found necessary to make a change at headquarters. The existing Board of Admiralty was dissolved, and replaced by another with the Earl of Pembroke at its head. Torrington was very indignant, and threatened to resign the command of the fleet in the Channel. He was pacified with gifts, and then showed his zeal as an officer by staying in London to enjoy himself. He afterwards said that he had warned the Government that a larger fleet must be prepared, but did not take the effectual step of insisting upon resigning unless he was supplied with sufficient force.

A strong fleet was indeed necessary, for the French king had at last decided on making a serious attack in the Channel. [24]His Toulon squadron was to be brought round from the Mediterranean, and was to join the Vice-Admiral du Ponant, the Count de Tourville, at Brest. Then the whole force, which was intended to reach the imposing figure of 78 ships of the line, 30 fireships, and 15 galleys, besides frigates and other attendant small craft, was to come into the Channel. The French Government, exaggerating the meaning of the discontent in England, was under the impression that a Jacobite rising would take place upon the appearance of the French fleet. On our side there was no understanding of the gravity of the coming crisis. In March Admiral Killigrew was dispatched with thirteen sail of the line and two fireships to protect the Mediterranean convoy. He was joined by some Dutch men-of-war. The combined squadron met with bad weather, and put into Cadiz on the 3rd of April. While lying here Killigrew received information that Châteaurenault was to be expected shortly on his way out to the ocean. Killigrew left Cadiz, and went into Gibraltar Bay, where he was joined by Captain Skelton, who was also on convoy duty with six ships. The combined force stood over to the Barbary coast to look for Châteaurenault, who might be supposed to be likely to hug the shore of Africa in order to escape observation. The common fate of our fleets at that time attended this operation. Killigrew was too late. On the 11th of May, Châteaurenault was seen outside the allied fleets. Killigrew pursued, but his ships were foul with long cruising, perhaps by neglect, for some of them had not been cleaned for seventeen months. The French squadron easily outsailed its pursuers. Killigrew then returned to Cadiz, and collected the trade before returning home. He reached England at the beginning of July and there heard of a disaster further up channel, which left him no resource but to carry his ship into the Hamoaze, and there take shelter behind batteries.

This disaster was the Battle of Beachy Head, which the French call the Battle of Bévisier, a corruption of Pevensey Bay. As the year grew on, the English Government became aware that a large French force might soon be expected in the Channel. The crisis was a very dangerous one, since the king had sailed for Ireland with all the best troops. There were few left in England, and the discontent of the Jacobites [25]was notorious. The naval preparations made to meet an enemy were insufficient. When Torrington was at last sent down to Portsmouth on the 28th May there were but thirty-two English ships and eighteen Dutch collected.

Tourville had sailed from Brest on the 13th of June. The reinforcements brought him by Châteaurenault raised his fleet to something over seventy ships of the line, with thirty fireships and some small craft. He sailed into the Channel, and his approach was first known to Torrington on the 22nd. The English admiral was completely surprised by the appearance of the enemy. At a later period, when his conduct was called into question, he endeavoured to throw the blame for his want of knowledge on the ministers, who, as he complained, had not sent him down till the last of May, when it was too late for him to station look-out ships off Brest. It does not, however, appear why he thought it necessary to stay in London till he was driven out by a special order. After the change in the Admiralty Board he had no official duties in the capital, and if he stayed there till he earned from the sailors the nickname of Lord Tarry-in-Town, it was presumably because he did not wish to leave. Even so, he was with the fleet on the 30th of May, and might have detached look-out ships to the mouth of the Channel. He said he did, and then immediately afterwards said he did not, because all his frigates were engaged in shipping Lord Pembroke’s newly raised regiment of marines. The Dutch, to whom he entrusted the duty, without taking the trouble to see whether it were executed, were too busy shipping their stores to have leisure for anything else. The allied fleet, in fact, presented a picture of sloth and carelessness. When the enemy was known to be in the immediate neighbourhood, it weighed anchor, and dropped down to Dunnose. Here it was joined by two English and three Dutch ships of the line, which raised it to fifty-five. Torrington anchored and remained at anchor until the 25th. On that day he again weighed with the wind at N.E. and on the afternoon sighted the French to the south of the Isle of Wight. They were much scattered, and some of them were far to leeward. In such circumstances Monk would at once have attacked the enemy within striking distance in the hope of crippling him severely before he could be reinforced. Torrington drew his [26]fleet into a line of battle and made towards the enemy. But he soon came to the conclusion that “they had enough in a body to have given us more than sufficient work.” He could not understand why they had not attacked him. It is probable that they abstained because he was to windward and they were scattered. To Monk the fact that the enemy was shy would have been an extra reason for attacking. To Torrington it only suggested dismal reflections as to what might happen if the French became enterprising, and therefore he retired. During the 26th he worked back from the south of the Isle of Wight to the N.E. A letter which he wrote on this day to the Council is marked on every line with glee over the embarrassment the crisis was likely to cause to his political opponents. He did indeed say that he would watch the enemy, and get to westward of them if he could; but before this he had expressed his opinion that the best course was to fall back to the Gunfleet, and then the ships from the west might come up to Portsmouth, and join him over the “Flats,” that is the shallows at the mouth of the Thames. The ships from the west were Killigrew’s squadron. Torrington knew that they had been cruising and must be foul, and it was certainly within his knowledge that they were less numerous than his own fleet. Yet he proposed to subject them to the risk of passing the French fleet, which he thought too great to be run by himself. This was not how Tromp had behaved when he united the fleets of the Maas and the Texel in defiance of Monk at the end of the First Dutch War.

It would seem that there are two types of fighting man. The first when in presence of the enemy instinctively thinks, “How can I strike with the most effect.” The great race are of this type. To it belong Blake and Monk, Hawke, Hood, Nelson, and their like, among our admirals; and, among our enemies, Tromp, De Ruyter, and Suffren. Then there is another kind of fighting man who may be brave enough personally, but who, when he is a commander, instinctively says, “How can I prevent the enemy from hurting me.” This kind of leader has fortunately been rare with us at sea, but Herbert was of the race, and so was Byng. Such men are always looking over their shoulders, always making the most of the enemy’s force, always exaggerating the defects of their [27]own command. They seek for excuses to do nothing, and when they do come to the resolution to fight, the opposite determination to retreat forms itself underneath, as it were spontaneously. This was the natural tendency of Herbert as he had already shown in Bantry Bay, and it was strengthened by his wish to punish those political rivals in London who had refused to take his advice, and had turned him out of the Admiralty.

When his letter of the 26th reached the Council it was not unnaturally interpreted by them as indicating a wish to retire to the Gunfleet at once. This may have been a mistake, but an admiral who said that he had “heartily given God thanks” that the enemy declined battle, and added, “I shall not think myself very unhappy if I can get rid of them without fighting,” had no ground to complain if he was thought to be wanting in spirit. No member of the Council was more bitter against Herbert than his brother seaman Edward Russell, a rancorous man, and an extreme Whig. He was very probably moved by jealousy, but the queen and the civil members of the Council can hardly be severely blamed for not entirely trusting one admiral, when another admiral condemned him without stint. On general grounds the Council was justified in expecting more energy from Torrington. The danger was not that a great French army could land, this the queen’s counsellors knew to be impossible, but that a small corps of French troops might be thrown on shore which could act as a rallying point to the partizans of King James. It was a great object to rouse the general patriotic feeling of the country, and there was no more effectual method of doing that than a battle. The case was one in which it was better to fight, and be beaten, than not to fight at all. A letter was written in the queen’s name to Torrington. It was worded with no apparent want of confidence, and it left him free not to fight if he preferred; but it ordered him strictly not to lose sight of the French, to get to windward of them if he could, but to fight on the first advantage rather than to go to the Gunfleet.

The letter reached Torrington on the 29th of June. He called a council of war which agreed with him that it implied an order to fight on the first advantage. A previous council of war had confirmed his opinion that it was better not to [28]fight. It may be laid down as a general rule that a council of war is a mere blind for the commander-in-chief. When it does not consist of his dependants it must still necessarily be full of his inferiors in rank, who have been trained by the habits of their life not to contradict the commanding officer. Besides, when he wants to fight, it looks cowardly to recommend retreat, and, when he wants to retreat, it looks like a reflection on his courage to insist upon fighting.

The fleet was now lying off Beachy Head some nine or ten miles to the south. The enemy again were some eighteen miles off to the S.W. The fleet weighed anchor at nine o’clock at night, and remained beating to and fro till daybreak. The wind was off the shore. The enemy also was under way at sundown, but at two o’clock in the morning Tourville was heard to fire guns as a signal to anchor. The sound was heard and understood in the English fleet. An opportunity now presented itself for slipping between the French and the land, and getting to the westward of them for the sake of joining Killigrew. Tromp would have made a push, but Torrington seems to have been in a dogged and stupid mood with no very fixed intention in his mind, save to make all the trouble he could for other people. At daybreak the fleet had not much altered its position. Beachy Head was still twelve miles to the N.E. and the French were visible at anchor to the south. At four o’clock the signal was made to form the line, and at eight o’clock the “bloody flag,” the red flag hoisted at the fore-topmast-head, which was the signal to engage the enemy, was run up in the flagship. Two vessels had joined Torrington since he left Dunnose. His total force now consisted of thirty-five English, and twenty-two Dutch. According to the order established for the fleet, the Dutch led when it was upon the starboard tack. As the wind was N.E. and the enemy to the South and West, the fleet bore down with the wind on the right quarter, the Dutch led. Torrington himself was in the centre with the Red Squadron, with Sir John Ashby between him and the Dutch, and Sir George Rooke between him and the Blue Squadron in the rear. Sir Ralph Delaval commanded the Blue Squadron. The fleet it must be understood was not perpendicular, but parallel to the enemy though a little [29]behind him. Thus the ships of the allied fleet had to bear down on the French in a number of lines which struck upon them at an angle, but were parallel to one another. When the allied fleet was seen to be approaching, the French weighed anchor and lay with their heads pointing to N. of W. in a long concave line. The official French list gives seventy-two vessels present in the line, but the English counted that there were thirty-four ahead of the French admiral and forty-eight behind him. In this there was probably exaggeration, and perhaps downright lying. Tourville himself had his flag in the Soleil Royale, a magnificent ship of 110 guns. The van was commanded by the Lieutenant-General Châteaurenault and Lieutenant-General the Marquis de Villette Mursay. The rear was under the command of Count D’Estrées, Vice-Admiral du levant, and the Lieutenant-General Gabaret, who had been promoted after the action of Bantry Bay.

Fire began at nine o’clock when the Dutch ships under Admiral Cullemburg came into action with the French van. Owing to the inferiority of the allies in numbers there was a danger that as they could not stretch all along the line of the French fleet some of the ships in the French line would turn to windward, and put either the Dutch or the English, according to circumstances, between two fires. The danger was one which De Ruyter had had to face in the battles of 1672 and 1673, and he had provided for it by telling off a squadron to watch the enemy’s van and had then thrown the bulk of his own force on the rear. It shows how useless experience is to naturally stupid men, that although all the senior officers present had served either with, or against, De Ruyter, none of them thought of following his example. All the allied leaders could do was to endeavour to get as near as they could to stretching themselves out to the same length as the enemy by sending the van down against the French van; by keeping the Red Division opposite the enemy’s centre; and by leaving the attack on the rear to Sir Ralph Delaval. While they were bearing down, Herbert changed his mind once, or twice, as to the exact point of the enemy’s line he wished to reach, and altered the course of his ship accordingly. The result was that Sir John Ashby became puzzled as to the intentions of his commander-in-chief, and finally ended [30]by attaching himself to the Dutch. In the end Torrington placed himself opposite the rear of the French centre so that there came a gap between him and Ashby. Being afraid that the French would stand out of their own line, in order to pass through this opening, Herbert kept his ships a good distance from the enemy so that he might be the better placed to head off such as attended this movement. As the French began to move ahead slowly, just as the allies came down, the Dutch could not get abreast of the leading ship, and struck on them at the ninth.

The Dutch began to fire at nine, Sir Ralph Delaval at half-past nine, and the centre at ten. At the two extremities the fighting was hot. Sir Ralph Delaval pressed eagerly on the squadron of Count D’Estrées, and pushed his attack with such energy that the enemy seemed to flinch. Sir John Ashby in the van found himself abreast of Tourville. He fired two guns in order to see whether the Vice-Admiral du Ponant would be a “reasonable enemy.” Tourville disdained to strike first at his inferior in rank, and it was not until Ashby’s first broadside had been delivered that the Soleil Royal opened fire. The wind, which had been strong in the early morning was still blowing a good breeze. It was used by the ships at the head of the French line to work to windward. Between eleven and twelve o’clock they succeeded in doubling on the Dutch and putting them between two fires. Admiral Cullemburg’s squadron fought gallantly but was overpowered. What had happened was seen on the centre and rear. Torrington’s attention was called to the movement by his flag-captain who asked if he also intended to allow himself to be weathered. He answered that he did not, and began at once to work up to windward. As Sir Ralph Delaval had pressed closely on D’Estrées, he had fallen to leeward of the commander-in-chief, and there was an “elbow” in the English line. By two o’clock the wind fell away to a dead calm and movement became restricted on either side to what could be done by towing, or drifting along with the tide. Cannonading went on between the two stationary fleets for some time. At last the ebb-tide set up a strong westerly current. The Dutch dropped anchor with all sails set. As the French were not seamen enough to do the same thing [31]they drifted to the west. One Dutch ship which was too much damaged to anchor floated away, and became a prize. Then Herbert drifted down to the neighbourhood of the Dutch and anchored close by them. The allies remained at anchor, till the easterly current began to flow with the flood-tide in the evening. Then they got up anchor and tided eastwards towards the Thames. The pursuit of Tourville was timid. He followed next day, but in line of battle which limited the speed of his fleet to that of the slowest vessel in it. To this timidity Torrington owed his safety from complete destruction. A few of the more severely crippled Dutch and English vessels were set on fire, but the great bulk of the allied fleet got safely into the Thames.

The subsequent movements of Tourville may be dismissed in a few lines. He remained in the Channel until the early days of August, ranging at will up and down and of course paralysing commerce, but he did nothing more against our coast than burn the little town of Teignmouth in South Devon. There was nothing in fact that he could do. The Jacobite rising did not take place because he had no troops to land to help the country gentlemen, who were resolved not to move until they were secure against being attacked by the Government’s forces before they were sufficiently organised to offer any resistance. In August Tourville returned quietly to Brest. There had been a furious outbreak of anger in the country against Torrington and a great movement of patriotism which was unspeakably to the advantage of King William’s government. Yet when Torrington was brought to trial in December he was acquitted. The acquittal was intelligible. King William’s victory at the Boyne, gained just after the battle of Beachy Head, had put the country into good humour, and the admiral’s most bitter accusers were the Dutch who were not popular in England. But it was none the less a misfortune. Torrington had not done his utmost. His position indeed was a difficult one, but it was not worse than Monk’s in 1666, or De Ruyter’s in 1672, ’73, and he had not behaved as these men had done. When a court martial could find no fault with his management it lowered the whole standard of conduct expected of an English naval officer. It showed that a man who leaned to the side of timidity would not be condemned by [32]other officers. Then, too, the court, which could see nothing to blame in his feeble effort of attack on the 30th June, must have been composed of men of a lower level of intelligence than the sea chiefs, whether Dutch, or English of the previous wars. It laid the foundation of that pedantic adherence to the line and the practice of engaging from van to rear which afterwards led to the monstrous sentence on Admiral Mathews, to the helpless weakness of Byng, and to the stupidity of Graves. Perhaps the ugliest feature of the whole transaction was this, that the English excused Torrington very largely on the ground that the chief sufferers in the battle had been the Dutch. There was something very base in the code of honour of people who did not think it ignoble to throw the burden of battle on an ally.

While Tourville was ranging the Channel the English government had fitted out a fresh armament. It was put under the combined command of Sir Richard Haddock, Sir John Ashby, and Admiral Killigrew. This fleet could, however, do little. The French were no longer at sea, and the great ships were laid up as usual before the beginning of autumn. Yet one good piece of service was done before the year was closed. Marlborough had suggested that an expedition might be sent to act against the partisans of King James in the south of Ireland. The scheme was approved by King William, and Marlborough sailed in September, under an escort of third and fourth rates commanded by the admirals. Cork was taken on the 29th September, and the bulk of the ships then returned to the Channel, leaving a few to co-operate with Marlborough in the attack on Kinsale. This completed the expedition. A separate squadron of ships had cruised during this year on the coast of Ireland, under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and had co-operated in the taking of Duncannon.

In this year the French had again made very little use of their naval force. In spite of Tourville’s victorious cruise in the Channel, the English cause had advanced as a whole. King James had been beaten from the north and east of Ireland, and deprived of two very important ports in the south. That this was so was due to the little help afforded him by the French navy. King Louis seems never to have thought [33]of keeping a squadron permanently on the coast of Ireland, though it would have been easy and manifestly advantageous so to do. In the Channel, Tourville had really effected very little. He is perhaps not to be blamed for retiring in August. Nobody then thought of keeping the great ships out in autumn, and the French ports in the Channel are very poor. But he had shown undeniable want of enterprise against Torrington. His pursuit had been so feeble after Beachy Head that we may doubt whether he was the man to have taken advantage of the weather-gage of the change of wind which Herbert feared had occurred. His own countrymen were ill-satisfied with him. The famous epigram of Seignelay that he was poltron de tête mais non de cœur, is well known. If this was all the French could do when their powers were at the best it would be the fault of the allies if they did not some day turn the tables on their enemy.

The operations of 1691 were of a nature to confirm this belief. A powerful fleet was sent to sea by the allies under the command of Russell. Its movements throughout the summer were wearisome and unimportant. It went to and fro between May and the beginning of autumn. In the meantime Tourville was at sea with a fleet of eighty sail of the line. His cruise is rather a famous passage in French naval history. He contrived to keep the sea without allowing himself to be forced to battle—and at last, by making clever use of a shift of wind, managed to get into Brest untouched by the allied fleet. The pride of the French of the time with this achievement, and the satisfaction they have expressed at it since, are the condemnation of a navy, and a method of conducting war. Tourville was quite strong enough to fight the allies, yet his movements were directed to avoiding battle and to capturing merchant ships. As a matter of fact, he missed his great prize, the Smyrna convoy, and in the meantime Limerick, King James’s last stronghold in Ireland, was taken, and the country thoroughly subdued. The great French fleet had preserved itself, but the King of France had lost an ally who kept up a useful diversion of the resources of England. A fighting force which makes it a principal object to avoid battle is doomed to defeat when it comes across an enemy who makes it a steady rule to fight. But the French never took the view that if you [34]wish to use the sea you must drive your enemy off it, and if you want to do that you must smash him. In the dullest times the English navy has always understood that the beating of the French navy was the preliminary to everything else. The French government, which was much distressed by lack of money, was angry with Tourville for missing the convoy, and accused him of timidity.

In 1692 the French at last learnt by a painful experience the truth of Bacon’s saying that “Occasion turneth a bald noddle after she has presented her locks in front, and no hold taken, or at least turneth the handle of the bottle first to be received and afterwards the belly which is hard to clasp.” After wasting three years either in delivering their blows wide, or hitting feebly when the direction was good, the French at last made a serious effort to strike England to the heart. But what they might have done with a fair prospect of success in ’89, ’90, or ’91, they attempted with insufficient means in ’92. Their deficiencies were due to causes which a little foresight would have made them understand were sure to operate sooner or later. The events of ’90 had taught the English Government the necessity for vigorous preparations. At the same time an accident, such as was always likely to occur, prevented a timely concentration of their own forces. The Toulon fleet, under Châteaurenault, ought to have joined Tourville at Brest early in the year, but it was delayed by bad weather. It was, and always has been, a cause of weakness to the French that their two seacoasts on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic are separated from one another by the Spanish Peninsula. An enemy who is in a position to occupy the Straits of Gibraltar with a strong naval force is admirably placed, to prevent one-half of the French fleet from uniting with the other. Even when there was no hostile squadron in the Straits, persistent bad weather might confine the French in the Mediterranean. At a later date, attempted concentrations of the French fleet broke down from these very causes. But this was a probability which ought to have been provided for. Louis XIV. ought either to have made his officers act with more spirit or not to have allowed an important part of his fleet to go back to the Mediterranean at the close of ’91. As it was, his effort to carry out a scheme of invasion with a [35]part of his naval force, when the whole of them would not have been too many, ended, as it was bound to end, in disastrous failure.

The allied Dutch and English fleets were out early. Their Governments had a double motive for wasting no time. They were aware that an army of invasion, consisting in part of Irish regiments in the service of France, was being collected in Normandy for the invasion of England. In spite of many disappointments King James was still hopeful, and he had persuaded the King of France to make an effort to help the Jacobites in England. The army of invasion, some 30,000 strong, was collected in the Côtentin. They were quartered at La Hougue, on the eastern side of the Côtentin. Another object for which the allies had to provide was the safe return of the ships, Dutch and English, composing the Smyrna convoy. It was coming home under the protection of a squadron commanded by Sir Ralph Delaval. In order to discharge the double duty of covering the return of the convoy and watching the French, a detached squadron under the command of Rear-Admiral Carter cruised on the coast from Brest to Cape La Hague, the north-westerly point of the Côtentin. Delaval brought his convoy back in March and then joined Carter on the coast of France. In later times the English navy would have prepared to prevent the concentration of the French fleet by cruising off Brest, but at the end of the seventeenth century our officers had not yet acquired that confidence in their vessels, and the vessels had not been so far perfected, as to make cruising in spring on so dangerous a coast as that about Brest appear practicable for the great ships. The grand fleet was not in fact fully ready for sea till May, when Russell called in the detached squadrons, and united his whole force at St. Helens.

There was another reason for bringing the fleet together. The Government had decided on making a demonstration. During the last few months, as indeed at all times in King William’s reign, the Jacobite agents had been very busy. The great discontent undoubtedly existing among the naval officers, and partly due to the grievances as to their pay, had appeared to give the friends of the exiled king an opportunity. Captain David Lloyd had been running to and fro with great [36]zeal. His old comrades were too much attached to him to betray him to the Government even when they were opposed to his party, and there were no doubt great numbers of English naval officers who were as well disposed as other Englishmen to restore the exiled king if only he would not be his own worst enemy. These men would not be shocked by arguments in his favour. As they had themselves been praised and in some cases rewarded for deserting King James, it would be unreasonable to expect that they should have been greatly offended when asked by an old brother officer to desert back to him from King William. The activity of Lloyd was perfectly well known to the English Government. He had spoken to Carter, who had immediately reported the whole of the conversation to the queen. Lloyd himself does not appear to have taken all the grumblings he heard among his brother seamen very seriously, and the Council of Regency was probably not very frightened. But it wisely decided to bring all doubts to the test. On the 15th May a letter drawn up in the queen’s name by the Secretary, Nottingham, was sent down to the flag officers and captains of the fleet. In this letter the queen informed them that she had heard stories accusing them of disloyalty but she did not believe the accusations, and continued to repose the most complete confidence in their fidelity. This profession of a confidence it would have been wise to assume, even if it had not been sincerely felt, was at once communicated by Russell to his subordinates. It had the effect which had been hoped for. The fleet answered by unanimous expression of loyalty. An address expressing the perfect readiness of all the officers to venture their lives, with all imaginable “alacrity and resolution,” in defence “of the Government and of the religion and liberty of the country and against all Popish invaders whatsoever,” was drawn up and signed on behalf of the fleet by sixty-four flag officers and captains.

An opportunity was speedily given to these officers to show that they could be as good as their word. A council of war decided to take the initiative against the French. A body of troops was to be landed at St. Malo, while the allied fleet was to lie to the westward of that place in order to provoke a battle. On the 18th May, Russell sailed from St. [37]Helens, and on the following day when he was about twenty miles off Cape Barfleur, the easterly corner of the Côtentin, the look-out ships to the westward of the fleet made the signal for seeing the enemy. In fact, while the allies had been talking of invading France, Tourville had sailed from Brest with the intention of covering an invasion of England, and after suffering some delay from the weather had come so far. The two fleets now opposed to one another were divided as follows, and consisted of the elements shown on these lists:—

The White Squadron Red Squadron Blue Squadron
Guns Guns Guns
The Zealand 90 The Royal William 100 The Victory 100
Konig Wilhelm 92 London 100 Albemarle 90
Brandenburg 92 Britannia 100 Windsor Castle 90
West Friesland 84 St. Andrew 100 Neptune 90
Printz 92 Royal Sovereign 100 Vanguard 90
Printzess 92 St. Michael 90 Duchess 90
Bexhirmer 84 Sandwich 90 Ossory 90
Casteel Medenblick 86 Royal Catherine 90 Duke 90
Captain General 84 Cambridge 70 Resolution 70
North Holland 68 Plymouth 60 Monk 60
Erste Edele 74 Breda 80 Expedition 70
Munickendam 74 Kent 70 Royal Oak 74
Gelderland, A. 74 Swiftsure 70 Northumberland 70
Stadt Meeyden 72 Hampton Court 70 Lion 60
Etswout 72 Grafton 70 Berwick 70
Printz Casimir 70 Restoration 70 Defiance 70
Frisia 70 Eagle 70 Montague 60
Riddershap 72 Rupert 60 Warspight 70
De 7 Provintzen 76 Elizabeth 70 Monmouth 70
Zurick Zee 60 Burford 70 Edgar 70
Gelderland, R. 64 Captain 70 Stirling Castle 70
Vere 62 Devonshire 80 Dreadnought 60
Zealand, A. 64 York 60 Suffolk 70
Haerlem 64 Lenox 70 Cornwall 80
Leyden 64 Ruby 50 Essex 70
Amsterdam 64 Oxford 50 Hope 70
Velew 64 St. Albans 50 Chatham 50
Maegd van Dort 64 Greenwich 50 Advice 50
Tergoes 54 Chester 50 Adventure 50
Medenblick 50 Centurion 50 Crown 50
Gaesterland 50 Bonaventure 50 Woolwich 54
Ripperda 50 Deptford 50
Schattershoff 50
Stadden Land 52
Hoorn 50
Delft 54


The list of the French fleet given by Monsieur Troude is as follows:—

Guns Guns Guns
Bourbon 64 Fort 60 Content 64
Monarque 90 Henri 64 Souverain 84
Aimable 68 Ambitieux 96 Illustre 70
Saint Louis 60 Couronne 76 Modéré 52
Diamant 60 Maure 52 Excellent 60
Gaillard 68 Serieux 68 Prince 60
Terrible 76 Courageux 58 Magnifique 76
Merveilleux 94 Perle 56 Laurier 64
Tonnant 76 Glorieux 64 Brave 58
Saint-Michel 60 Conquerant 84 Entend 60
Sans-Pareil 62 Soleil Royal 104 Triomphant 76
Foudroyant 82 Saint-Philippe 84 Orgueilleux 94
Brilliant 68 Admirable 90

It will be seen that the force of the two fleets was extremely unequal; the allies being in fact more than twice as strong as their enemy. If this was a surprise to the French, the information supplied to Louis XIV. by the Jacobites in England, and by his agents in the Low Countries, must have been far less accurate than is commonly supposed. If, on the other hand, he really did believe that the grumblers in the English fleet, and that Russell the admiral, who was undoubtedly in communication with the exiled court at St. Germain, would betray their country to its hereditary enemy on the field of battle, and under the eyes of all the world, he must have been singularly impervious to experience. Tourville received peremptory orders, dated the 26th March, and worded in a style insulting to him. He was told to go near enough to the enemy to see them for himself, and not to be misled into believing that merchant-ships were men-of-war, as he was accused of doing during the off-shore cruise of 1691. If on reaching La Hougue he found the allies already there, he was to attack them whatever their numbers might be. If victorious, he was to cover the passage of the army to England. If defeated, he was to save his fleet as he best could. Should the allies not be near La Hougue when he arrived, he was to transport the army without waste of time. If the allies attacked him during the passage, he was to fight with obstinacy, so as to give the army time to land. In case the allies [39]appeared after the landing, he might avoid a battle if they exceeded in number by ten ships.

When the French were signalled by the guns of the look-out ships at three o’clock on the morning of the 19th, the weather was foggy. Fearing that the enemy might stretch past him to northward, Russell signalled to the rear to tack and close the space between him and the coast of England. At four o’clock the mist lifted and the enemy were seen to the westward with their heads pointing to the south. As this showed that they had no intention of attempting to turn him on the north side Russell countermanded the order to the Rear or Blue Division. The allied fleet was not in order of battle but scattered some ahead, some to windward, and some to leeward of the admiral. The wind was blowing from the S.W., and the French therefore had the weather-gage. The line was formed at eight o’clock with the Dutch or White Squadron in the van, and to the south of the Red Squadron which formed the centre, then came the Blue Squadron farthest to the north. There must have been a distance of many miles between the first and last ship of this great fleet of ninety-nine sail, and the Blue Squadron was still to leeward. Having made his simple disposition to meet the attack Russell lay with his topsail to the mast waiting for the enemy to come on. With a resolution of character which shows his innate superiority to Herbert, Tourville charged home. He directed his attack on the centre of the allied line, telling off a few ships in his van and rear to watch the van and rear of the allies, and prevent them from doubling on his own fleet.

The battle began about ten o’clock, and lasted till about five in the afternoon. The French ships engaged with the Red Division made no attempt to break through the English line. The battle was conducted entirely by cannonading at short ranges, and the English claimed that their fire was more rapid than the French. When the enemy’s attack was fully developed Russell ordered the van to tack for the purpose of getting to windward of the French, and putting them between two fires, and at the same time signalled to the Blue Division to come closer to the centre. Neither order could be obeyed, for the wind was very light so that the ships were unable to manœuvre. The real battle was always between the Red [40]Squadron and the ships immediately around Tourville. About two o’clock in the afternoon the wind, after falling altogether, rose again, but from the N.W., thus giving the weather-gage to the allies, and by five o’clock Tourville began to draw off. He doubtless felt that enough had been done for honour, and he hoped that the Red Squadron had been sufficiently mauled to cripple it from pursuing him. The wind was light and variable. As the French ships drew away to the westward it fell calm and the mist arose again; then there was a short squall from the east. Sir Cloudesley Shovell with the rear division of the Red Squadron broke through the French in the interval between the centre and the ships which had been stretched out to observe the rear of the allies. Captain Hastings of the Sandwich was killed at this phase of the action. The two fleets became mingled in the fog, and drifted to the westward with the ebb-tide. Both anchored at the flood, but at this moment a portion of the Blue Squadron which had worked to the westward of the French drifted back through them in the mist and darkness. They were fired on as they came through, and Rear-Admiral Carter, whose division made this movement, was killed. The sound of the cannonading was heard by the rest of the allied fleet, but it could take no part in the action. When he saw that the enemy was in retreat Russell had ordered a general chase, that is to say he left each ship free to go at its utmost speed. But no great rapidity of movement was possible. The wind had fallen, and the fog made it impossible to see.

This was the end of what strictly speaking is called the battle of La Hogue, from the old spelling of La Hougue. The name is improperly used, for the actual battle was fought off Cape Barfleur. The battle of Barfleur was in fact the title commonly given by our ancestors, but it has been displaced by the name of the place which was the last scene of the four days’ pursuit following on the action. The pursuit began like a nightmare, in strenuous effort to act without the power to move. Both fleets had anchored during the night. When daylight came there was a thick haze and the French were invisible to the allied fleet. What little wind there was, was from the N.N.E. At about eight o’clock some of the Dutch ships caught sight of the enemy to the W.S.W. The pursuit was [41]resumed, but, as the ships could not move more quickly than they were carried by the tide, the progress was very slow. At four o’clock in the afternoon the ebb-tide ceased, and both fleets again anchored, the French in order to avoid the risk of being carried among their pursuers, and the allies so that they should not lose ground. They had moved so little during the ebb-tide that they were still off Cape Barfleur, and at no great distance from the scene of the battle. As long as the tide was flowing it was useless to move, but at ten in the evening, when it turned, both fleets again got under way and began to drift to the west. About this time the fore-topmast of the Britannia, which had been seriously injured in the action, came down, and as Russell did not transfer his flag to another vessel, this delayed the Red Squadron under his immediate command. Many of them must have suffered in the action. Whether because they felt bound to remain about their admiral, or because they could not move any faster, the ships of the Red Squadron fell somewhat behind in the pursuit while the Blue and White pressed on ahead. At four in the morning of the 21st both fleets anchored again. They had now tided so far that they were almost off Cape La Hague. Both were much scattered. A part of the French had passed the Cape, the others had not. Among those which had failed to get beyond the headland was the Soleil Royal, Tourville’s flagship. She had suffered very severely in the action from the fire of the Britannia and the ships just ahead and astern. It has been said with some appearance of truth that if Tourville had had the resolution to set her on fire he might have brought the whole of his fleet round Cape La Hague. But she was the pride of the French Navy, and had been named from the king himself who was the royal sun of France, and the admiral could not make his mind up to sacrifice her. He had, however, transferred his flag to another ship the Ambitieux.

When the fleets were ordered to anchor, only a portion of the French was able to obey. Whether it was because they had slipped their cables on the previous night, and therefore could not anchor, or whether their anchors would not hold, it is certain that they were unable to stop themselves from being carried to the eastward towards the allies. The position then [42]in the early hours of the 21st was this, one part of the French fleet was ahead, to the west another part was drifting eastward between the land and the allies. The best sailing ships of the White and Blue Squadrons were well ahead of Russell, who with the Red Squadron was furthest of all to the east. The inability of the ships immediately about him to anchor showed Tourville that it was useless to endeavour to keep his now divided fleet acting as one body any longer. If he summoned the ships to the west to his assistance he would bring the whole fleet into a trap between the land and the enemy, who was in overwhelming numbers. Since he could no longer exercise his powers as commander to any advantage there remained nothing for him but to abdicate. He therefore hauled down his flag of command from the main-topmast-head, as a signal that every captain was free to act as he thought best for the safety of his ship. The French fleet now split into fragments. One part, under the Chef d’escadre Pannetier made a push for the Channel between the coast of France and the island of Alderney. The easterly current of the flood-tide splits at Cape La Hague. While the main body flows up Channel a branch turns off, and runs with great speed between the west side of the Côtentin and the island of Alderney. This makes what we call the Race of Alderney, and the French the Raz Blanchard. The navigation is dangerous, and would, under ordinary circumstances, have been avoided by the heavy ships, but circumstances only left the French a choice of evils, and they ran through the Race to seek refuge under the guns of St. Malo.

Russell, seeing that the division of the French and the distress of the vessels drifting towards him made it no longer necessary to keep his fleet together, signalled to Ashby, and the Dutch to pursue Pannetier. Meanwhile he, with the Red Division and the laggards of the White and Blue, prepared to deal with those of Tourville’s ships which had failed to round La Hague. Ashby could not reach the enemy. Pannetier had time to get his ships over the bar of the Rance, and take refuge under the guns of the corsair town of St. Malo, before his pursuers reached him. Ashby returned next day and joined Sir Ralph Delaval, who, in the meantime, had done a good stroke of work at Cherbourg. When it [43]became clear that they were trapped the ships of Tourville had no resource but to endeavour to fly to the eastward between Russell and the land, to round Cape Barfleur and to take refuge at La Hougue. Three of them were too crippled for further flight. These were the famous Soleil Royal, for whose sake so much had been risked, the Admirable, and the Triomphant. All three were run ashore at Cherbourg, and the others fled eastward. Russell left Sir Ralph Delaval to deal with the stranded ships, and followed the rest. Delaval could do nothing on the evening of the 21st, but on the following morning he sent in the boats and fireships, under the command of Captain Heath, Captain Greenaway, and Captain Foulis. The Admirable and Triomphant were burnt. But the fireship with which Captain Foulis endeavoured to burn the Soleil Royal was sunk by the Frenchmen’s fire. Hereupon, Delaval hauled in as close as he could and opened fire on the great stranded flagship. When he had battered her for some time, and found that no further resistance was made, he took his boats and boarded her. Sir Ralph Delaval’s report contains a detail which is discreditable to King Louis’s navy. He says he found many men and wounded men in the Soleil Royal, but no officers. She was burnt by the English. When the work was done Sir Ralph was disturbed by thirty sail approaching him from the west. This, however, turned out to be Sir John Ashby’s squadron, and the two officers united their forces, and followed the admiral to the east. A few of the French ships under command of Nesmond escaped by sailing round the British Isles.

Russell pursued Tourville round Cape Barfleur. The French admiral ran as close as he could to La Hougue, with the thirteen vessels still about him. It was not until the evening of the 22nd, so light was the wind and so slow were the ships of that time amid tides and variable breezes, that Russell was able to anchor in the neighbourhood of the fugitives. On the 23rd he sent in the boats and fireships under Rooke, who burnt six of the enemy. On the 24th the work was completed by the destruction of the other seven. The French indeed were panic-stricken, and the resistance was trifling. Not more than ten men were killed in this piece of service, which if attempted against [44]an alert and resolute enemy must needs have been very costly.

The battle pursuit and destruction spread over these five days, and included under the name of “La Hogue” make nearly the last passage of naval warfare of a brilliant decisive character which we shall meet for three-quarters of a century. The navy had work of vital importance to do, and a function of unusual importance to fulfil. But it was no longer to meet equal fleets at sea, except on rare occasions, and when it did its own method of fighting was dull. The French fleet very soon ceased to contend with the allies in the ocean and channel altogether, and in the Mediterranean its efforts were spasmodic. The great change has been attributed to the disaster of La Hogue, without sufficient reason. We have seen that the operations of the French in previous years had been very languid. Their weakness during the rest of the war was to be mainly attributed to the French king’s want of money. His resources were overburdened by the war on land against the League of Augsburg, and he could not afford to fit out great fleets. But to our ancestors the importance of the battle of La Hogue was naturally a subject of high gratification. The material loss inflicted on King Louis was considerable, and the blow to his prestige greater still. They could feel that the Channel was now safe, not indeed from privateers, but from great fleets sent out to cover an invasion of England. Besides, after the spiritless straggling operations of the last three years, the resolution of Russell and the vigour of his pursuit were an immense change for the better.

The decline of the French navy was not immediately visible. An attempt to attack St. Malo at the close of 1692 was given up as hopeless, and the ships under Pannetier’s command were able to make their way to Brest undisturbed. In 1693 the French even achieved a considerable measure of success, partly through their own good management, and partly by the help of mistakes of the English Government. Russell was no longer at sea. The shifting politics of the time, and his own position as one of the leaders of the Whig party, combined with the king’s discovery of his intrigues with St. Germain to remove him from command. His place was [45]taken by Killigrew, Delaval, and Shovell, who were combined in a joint commission as admiral. The practice of giving the command at sea to a committee was once more revived because the Government distrusted a single command. The result was to discredit for ever the appointment of several men to do work which most especially requires unity of will and authority.

The fleet was collected under the joint admirals in April. It was not manned without great difficulty. Crews had to be found by taking men out of the privateers and by embarking five regiments of soldiers to serve as marines. Neither the Government nor the admirals had any definite plan of operations for the year. But an object was found for them by the necessity of escorting the Mediterranean trade safe on its way. The French privateers had been very active, and the convoy work at least of the English navy very badly done. Ships had remained in port rather than face the risk of making a passage. The necessities of the English and Dutch revenue compelled the Government to forward the trade, and so a squadron was told off under the command of Rooke and the Dutch admiral Van der Goes, to carry the outward-bound Smyrna convoy into the Mediterranean. The twenty-three ships, Dutch and English, appointed to protect the convoy would have been insufficient to deal with the Brest fleet, and the admirals were therefore ordered to see Rooke and his Dutch colleague well past Ushant. In the latter days of May the whole force was collected and sailed with the merchant ship under its protection in the beginning of June. By an oversight, which reflects very little credit on their intelligence, the admirals omitted to find out whether the French were in Brest or not. They had been ordered to accompany the convoy thirty leagues past Ushant, and they reached that point on the 4th of June. Not being satisfied that enough had been done for safety they exceeded their instructions so far as to continue with the merchant ships till they were fifty leagues W.S.W. off the island of Ushant. Then they left them and returned to the Channel. It is an example of the vices still prevailing in our naval administration that though the fleet had only just been collected it was in want of provisions already. When the admirals had returned to [46]Torbay they learnt what they ought to have been at the trouble to find out before, namely, that Tourville had left Brest. At the same time the English Consul at Leghorn forwarded information that the French Toulon fleet was ready to sail from Toulon. This report did not reach the admirals till the 13th June. When it was too late they realised the extent of the danger threatening Rooke. Tourville had in fact sailed south in May with orders to wait for the convoy. Messages were sent in hot haste to warn Rooke of his danger, but the disaster had happened before they could reach him.

While the admirals and Government were realising their mistake and were looking forward to the inevitable outcry in the City and House of Commons, the great convoy had been rolling southward at a speed regulated by the slowest of the merchant ships, happy if it made three miles an hour in favourable circumstances. It reached Cape St. Vincent on the 17th June. Here Rooke despatched a look-out vessel ahead, to see if there were any enemies in Lagos Bay, on the south coast of Portugal between Cape St. Vincent and Faro. The wind was very light, and the convoy made little progress. Next day the frigates discovered ten sail of French ships standing out of Lagos. The position was an extremely difficult one. With a large force of men-of-war so close at hand there was little hope of safety in flight for heavily laden merchant ships. It was decided to make a push for the friendly Spanish port of Cadiz. The wind from the N.N.W. was still light, and it might be that the French being to leeward would be unable to work up. But this course, though perhaps the best, where all were bad, led the convoy right into the jaws of Tourville’s fleet of eighty-six sail. Battle was hopeless, and flight not much better. Yet to run was all there was to do. The French advanced squadron had fallen back merely to draw the convoy on, and even if the bait had not succeeded there could have been but one end to the meeting. A hurry and a scurry such as may easily be imagined followed. Some of the small ships ran close in shore, by Rooke’s orders, and endeavoured to find a refuge in Faro, San Lucar, or Cadiz. By these we must understand very small craft from 40 to 100 tons. The heavier ships, meaning boats from [47]150 to 300 tons, the size of a large merchant ship of those times, did their best to shelter themselves behind Rooke and Van der Goes, and they all struggled to get away into the open sea. The Dutch warships were in more danger than our own, for being in the van they were to leeward and nearer the French. Tourville must have suffered from a constitutional inability to act with energy except by fits and starts. He now repeated, and with even less excuse, the very mistake he made after the battle of Beachy Head. His pursuit was slack. Some of the Dutch ships were overtaken and captured after a gallant resistance. But Rooke was able to carry a great part of the convoy to Madeira, and from thence home to Cork. He joined the admiral in the Channel in August. Tourville, after giving up the pursuit of Rooke too early, returned to the Straits where he spent his time in capturing or destroying the smaller merchant vessels. The total loss to the Dutch and English was put down at twenty-nine vessels taken and fifty destroyed.

This business of the Smyrna convoy may be said to be the turning-point of the war. Louis XIV. had sent Tourville to capture the Smyrna convoy mainly because he looked to gain money. In the following year he ordered the Brest fleet into the Mediterranean, and he made no serious attempt to contend with the allies in the western seas during the remainder of the war. At the time, and while the smart of the loss was fresh in England and Holland, this could not be known. The capture of the convoy led to a furious outcry against the Admiralty in England, and to violent inconclusive discussions in Parliament. Yet it was the direct cause of a great change for the better. The Government was fully waked up to the necessity of taking its fleet more seriously in hand. The effort to conduct a war by a committee was given up. Russell was restored to the command. At the same time, the officers were stimulated to do their work with a better heart by increase of pay and the establishment of the half-pay list. With sinking energy on the side of the French and increasing efficiency on our own the naval war took a new character. From this time forward there was an overwhelming superiority on the side of the allies. England came to contribute an increasing proportion of the [48]naval force employed, for the land war was straining Holland to the utmost. When the struggle with Louis XIV. came to an end at the Peace of Utrecht, England was much the one unrivalled sea power as she was when Napoleon surrendered to Captain Maitland of the Bellerophon.



Authorities.—See last Chapter; Memoirs of Forbin and Duguay-Trouin; Poulain, La Course au 17me Siècle.

The second and larger division of the War of the League of Augsburg can be most conveniently dealt with by subjects rather than in chronological order. There were no great campaigns between equal forces of sufficient interest to be taken by themselves. Throughout all these years the overpowering fleets of the Alliance cruised unchecked on the sea, hemming France in, harassing her coast, annihilating her commerce, and rendering assistance to the armies operating against her. Detached squadrons issued from England year after year to attack the French possessions in the New World and defend our own. In the meantime, the efforts of France on the sea were ever more strictly confined to the cruises of her privateers.

The object before the allies when once they had vindicated their superiority on the ocean was to harass the French coast and to co-operate with the armies on shore wherever an opportunity presented itself. The first duty was done with more barbarism than success. In the November of 1693 a futile attack was made on St. Malo by Benbow. Infernal machines, invented by one Meesters, a Dutchman in the English service, were drifted in for the purpose of destroying the shipping. They exploded too soon, and did no harm to the enemy. This attack on St. Malo was both the beginning and the type of a kind of operation we adhered to till the middle of the eighteenth century. Good powder and shot, and the lives of men, were thrown away in one dab after another at this or the other point on the French coast. It was very rarely that the expedition succeeded in causing any serious destruction to the [50]enemy. When it did, the harm inflicted on France was never enough to cripple her power, though the suffering caused to individuals was no doubt cruel. The English Government hardly ever showed itself capable of understanding that to assail unfortified towns does no good, and that fortified towns must be attacked with sufficient resources. To give more than a mere mention to such enterprises as these here would be to overestimate their importance altogether.

In 1694 this work of harassing the French was taken in hand, with results excellently calculated to show how a fleet ought to act, and how it ought not. Russell was at sea at a reasonably early date, with the intention to watch the Brest fleet and to endeavour to destroy that port itself. If the French fleet remained in the harbour the whole of his force would be needed for the purpose. If, however, Tourville had gone south a detachment might be left to deal with Brest, and Russell could go on. This recognition of the fact that the proper employment of an English fleet was to follow the enemy was perfectly sound in principle. So much cannot be said for the plan of attack on Brest. It might be a very advantageous thing to destroy the great French arsenal, but such a place was certain to be so strongly fortified as to be impregnable to the sudden attack of a mere flying column. Yet no greater force than can be fairly described by the name was put under the command of Tollemache. As a matter of fact the expedition was hopeless, for it had been betrayed to King Louis by some of King William’s servants who were in communication with St. Germain. One of the traitors was the great Marlborough.

As early as the 19th May, Russell learnt that Tourville had already sailed for the south. Before starting in pursuit, the new Admiral of the Fleet was able to deliver one effectual stroke at the enemy. A large French convoy of merchant ships was lying in Berteaume Bay under the protection of one French man-of-war. Russell dispatched a light squadron under Captain Pritchard to destroy it. The work was thoroughly done, and was followed up by the destruction of a number of other vessels going south with provisions to Tourville. Then, on the 5th or 6th June, Russell sailed for the south, leaving Lord Berkeley to carry out the attack on Brest. On the 7th of June Berkeley entered the wide channel [51]between the Pointe St. Mathieu and the Pointe du Raz, called the Iroise. The entrance to the Bay of Brest, named Le Goulet, or Gullet, is on the north-east corner of this channel. It is a narrow passage which leads into the land-locked Bay of Brest. The bay is shut off from the sea by a peninsula running south from the Goulet. The western side of this peninsula, after running due north and south, turns to the west with a curve to the end at the north, and forms the anchorage known as the Roads or Bay of Camaret.

The object of the expedition was to land in Camaret Bay, seize the peninsula on the western side of the harbour, and, using that as a basis of operations, open the entry to the bay to the fleet; and then destroy the arsenal of Brest. The French were on their guard; Camaret Bay was bristling with batteries and lined with troops. To go on was an act of folly, and so Carmarthen, who surveyed the bay, gave Tollemache to understand; but the soldier, though an exceedingly brave man and a good subordinate, was no general, and he was burning to distinguish himself. He urged the naval officers on, and among them he found an ally in Lord Berkeley. The result was that several ships were all but battered to pieces by the French cannon, and Tollemache landed at the southern corner of the bay with a few hundred men—an act of headlong folly which cost him his life, and sacrificed the lives of many others. Then the expedition came away.

There was a kind of wrong-headed magnanimity about the conduct of Tollemache which extorts a certain respect, but the succeeding operations are merely examples of how to combine the greatest possible malignity of intention with a high degree of ineptitude in the execution. Berkeley came back to St. Helens for refreshments, and then returned to the coast of France to take revenge. What he did was morally on a level with the desolation of the Palatinate, for which King Louis had been so bitterly reproached by his enemies, and it had this further disgrace attaching to it, that it was imbecile. The English fleet only bombarded Dieppe and Havre, killing a certain number of women, children, and unarmed men, and burning a few houses. Then it threatened La Hogue and Cherbourg. This done, it came back to St. Helens for refreshments. When invigorated by repose it returned to [52]Dunkirk, and exploded more infernal machines to no purpose.

In 1695 it was the same story. We made a demonstration at St. Malo, then we burnt the little fishing town of Granvelle, and then we achieved another failure at Dunkirk. In the following year these feats were renewed at Calais and elsewhere, till the war died down and was brought to a pause by the truce called the Peace of Ryswick in 1697. When it was resumed, the Admiralty had learnt that these expeditions were forms of waste, and we hear little or nothing of them during the reign of Queen Anne. It is probable that Captain Pritchard did more harm to the enemy by destroying the convoy in Berteaume Bay than was inflicted in all these expeditions, and he did it at a thousandth part of the cost.

More legitimate and fruitful than these attacks on the French coast towns were other operations of the fleet, which may be classed under two heads. First are the cruises of what our ancestors called “The Grand Fleet”—that is to say, movements of great forces representing the bulk of our effective naval power in Europe. Then contemporary to, but apart from them, were the cruises of squadrons, designed to protect our own colonial possessions or menace those of the French. These two kinds of naval operations were so far independent of one another that it is not necessary to tell them together. Again, many of them were so barren in results that it is superfluous to tell them in detail. Yet the mere fact that they took place shows the magnitude, the persistence, and the coherence of our efforts to make full use of the fleet. It has seemed to me most advisable to set them both forth briefly in parallel columns, and give particular accounts of the more notable among them afterwards.

Grand Fleets Small Squadrons
The year of Beachy Head. December 1689 to May 1690.—Captain Lawrence Wright to the West Indies, with ten ships and three small vessels. Contemporary with this cruise was the expedition of Sir W. Phipps from New England against Nova Scotia, then a French colony, and Quebec.
Year of Russell’s first command in the Channel. 12th December 1690 to August 1691.—Captain Ralph Wren to the West Indies. He died of fever, and many of his men with him. The squadron was brought home by Boteler.
[53] Year of La Hogue. In 1692 there was no colonial expedition.
Disaster of Rooke’s convoy. January to August 1693.—Cruise of Sir F. Wheeler to the West Indies, with twelve sail and three fireships.
Russell in Channel. Goes to seain May. Sails for Mediterranean in June. Enters Mediterranean in July. Operations on coast of Catalonia. Winters at Cadiz. Goes up Mediterranean again in March 1695. Returns to England in November of that year. January to September 1695.—Captain Robert Wilmot to West Indies, with five ships and one fireship. Wilmot died of fever, and one vessel was lost for want of hands.
April 1696 to October 1697.—Cruise of Vice-Admiral Nevil to West Indies. This squadron was almost totally destroyed by fever—only one captain returned.

There was now a break of four years, due to the truce which followed the Peace of Ryswick, 20th September 1697.

Grand Fleets Small Squadrons
1700.—Sir George Rooke sent into Baltic to support Charles XII. of Sweden against Denmark. No colonial expedition.
September 1701.—Benbow to the West Indies, where he died on the 4th November 1702 of wounds received in action with Du Casse. The command passed to Whetstone.
June to November 1702.—Rooke’s cruise to Cadiz, and attack on treasure ships at Vigo, in co-operation with the Dutch. July to October 1702.—Sir John Leake attacks French in Newfoundland.
June to September 1703.—Cruise of Sir C. Shovell into the Mediterranean. January to September 1703.—Rear-Admiral Graydon’s cruise into West Indies to replace Benbow.
January to September 1704.—Shovell and Rooke in Mediterranean; capture of Gibraltar and battle of Malaga. No new expedition to colonies.
April to November 1705.—Shovell and Peterborough; taking of Barcelona. April 1705 to December 1706.—Sir William Whetstone commanding in West Indies. He left in command Kerr.
February to October 1706.—Sir John Leake in command on coast of Spain. October 1706 to April 1707.—Sir John Jennings in West Indies.
[54] 1707.—Sir C. Shovell to the Mediterranean. He was wrecked on the Scilly Isles when returning from this cruise, 23rd October 1707. March 1707 to November 1709.—Sir Charles Wager in the West Indies.
March to October 1708.—Sir John Leake to the Mediterranean.
1708 to October 1709.—Sir George Byng left behind by Leake, winters at Minorca, taken by Stanhope. He returned with convoy in October 1709, leaving Whitaker with a squadron. Whitaker was succeeded by Baker, and then by Norris, till war ended. September 1710.—Captain George Martin takes Port Royal, and Nova Scotia from the French.
April to October 1711.—Disastrous expedition under Sir Hovenden Walker against Quebec.

These two lists are not exhaustive. They do not include minor operations against the French coast in the Channel, nor do they mention all the subordinate parts of the colonial expeditions. It is also necessary to bear in mind that the Grand Fleets were the fleets of the allies, not of England alone. The Dutch always contributed a part of the strength, and their share of the common force was nowise inferior in spirit, or skill, to ours. In one of the elements which go to make efficiency they were not rarely superior. Their health was too often better, since, to the deep discredit of British administrations of that time, we did not on the average feed our men as well as the Dutch. The colonial expeditions were our own, and the work was done at an awful cost of life by disease.

In these circumstances the cruises of the allied Grand Fleets could only be the successive exercises of an overwhelming superiority, directed against an enemy whose resistance must needs be passive, with rare and fitful efforts at retaliation. Year after year the great combined naval armaments of England and Holland sailed south in the spring. Before the Peace of Ryswick (1697) they went once to aid the Spaniards, who were contending feebly against the French in Catalonia. After the renewal of the war, they went repeatedly to aid the Hapsburg pretender, who was endeavouring to drive the Bourbon King of Spain, Philip V., from the throne he occupied by right of inheritance and the will of [55]Charles II., the last of the Austrian dynasty. They also served to cover the movements of English and Dutch commerce by mewing up the only fleet which Louis XIV. endeavoured to maintain in Toulon. Incidentally they enabled us to secure what Cromwell had hoped for, and what our Charles II. endeavoured to obtain by his marriage treaty—namely, a port of war near the Mediterranean, where an English fleet could keep its stores, repair damages, and find a safe anchorage without being dependent on the goodwill of an ally.

The interest of a conflict between strength and weakness cannot be in proportion to the importance of its results. These campaigns must therefore (considerations of space being also of much weight) “speak by their foreman”; by the typical examples. None seem more representative than the first great cruise into the Mediterranean in 1694, and that expedition of ten years later which put us in possession of Gibraltar.

It has been said above that the Grand Fleet had gone to sea in the spring of 1694 under the command of Russell. He was also the chief of the “commission for executing the office of Lord High Admiral”—and therefore combined the whole civil and military authority in his own person. The fleet consisted of fifty-two English and forty-one Dutch ships of the line, with their attendant fireships and small craft, when all were collected at St. Helens. When he was sure that the French had no fleet in Brest to assist in the defence, the admiral returned to St. Helens on the 23rd May, and sailed with his whole force on the 29th. On the 6th June the force designed to carry out the already mentioned raid on Brest was detached, and Russell sailed for the south in pursuit of the French with thirty English and twenty-two Dutch. He was off the Rock of Lisbon on the 25th June. Here he was reinforced by ships both English and Dutch, and his force was raised to sixty-three. A little later he was burdened by the co-operation of nine very inefficient Spaniards.

In July Russell entered the Mediterranean, to the great relief of the palsied Spanish Government, now trembling in impotence before the French army of invasion in Catalonia and the French fleet in the Mediterranean. The enemy retired [56]as the allies worked their way slowly up the coast and finally took refuge in the roadstead of Hyères, to the east of Toulon. Russell and his Dutch colleagues were then able to cover the Spanish forces in Catalonia and the Spanish coast trade from French attack. As autumn approached, they prepared to return; but King William wisely came to the decision that there was no better way of protecting English and Dutch naval interests at home than by keeping the French fleet shut in the Mediterranean. Russell therefore received orders to winter in Cadiz. He had to struggle with the unreasonable requests of the Spanish Government, which expected its allies to do everything for it, and could itself do little or nothing. Yet, as they were well supplied with money, stores, and even artificers from home, the allies passed the winter abroad at no greater cost than would have been incurred in their own ports.

In the spring of 1695, English troops were sent out under Brigadier Stewart, and a Dutch contingent under the Count of Nassau. The allies, after delays attributed to the dilatory preparations of the Spaniards, moved up the coast, and reached Barcelona on the 19th July. Stimulated by Russell, the Spanish viceroy of Catalonia resolved to take the offensive against the French, who were in possession of the northern part of the principality. It was decided to besiege Palamos, a coast town just south of Cape San Sebastian. English and Dutch soldiers were landed to aid the Spaniards, who for their part signally failed to keep the promises they had made to supply tents and tools for work in the trenches. Yet the siege, which began on the 9th of August, was making fair progress, when it was suddenly broken up by the decision of Russell himself. The Duke of Vendôme, who commanded the French army in Catalonia, put false information in his way, to the effect that a French fleet of sixty-five sail was fitting for sea at Toulon. Hereupon Russell re-embarked his soldiers, advised the Spanish viceroy to renounce all hope of retaking Palamos, and sailed to find the French. This measure has been praised, in view of the danger that the fleet from Toulon might have interfered with the siege. Yet if Russell was confident of his capacity to meet King Louis’s ships in battle—and if he was not it was a gross blunder to form the siege [57]at all, and another to sail for the purpose of meeting a superior fleet—he had it in his power to force on an action by pressing the attack, and waiting till the enemy came to interrupt him. By sailing in response to a mere rumour, he enabled the French to effect their purpose of raising the siege at no cost. Moreover, he did not secure the battle he sought. The French having nothing to gain by an action, did not indulge him with a meeting. The weather proved stormy, and in the end the allies returned in September to Cadiz without Palamos, and without a battle. Russell then sailed for home, and reached England after a prosperous voyage early in November, leaving behind him a squadron under the command of Rear-Admiral David Mitchell. The impotent conclusion of the attack on Palamos leaves us in some doubt whether Russell was not rather a fortunate than a spirited man. Yet his continuance abroad for a year and a half, his wintering at Cadiz, and his two cruises in the Mediterranean, did serve to prove that the allies had clearly gained the upper hand at sea. They could not have remained for so long, nor have cruised undisturbed, if the French had been in a position to use their fleet.

The end of these operations was somewhat tame. Sir David Mitchell had been left with sixteen ships of the line of the middle and lower rates. On the 15th October Sir George Rooke arrived from England with a squadron, and the total force of the allies was raised to thirty sail, exclusive of the small craft. Information, no more accurate than the false report which drew Russell away from Palamos, led Rooke to believe that a powerful French fleet was coming to sea. He took refuge in Cadiz harbour, and there spent the winter. Sir David Mitchell was once sent out in search of some French vessels said to be lying in Lagos Bay, but they were not found, and the allies were otherwise quiescent. Meanwhile, King Louis was indeed preparing to make an attack, or rather a double attack, on King William. During the early days of 1696 Sir John Fenwick’s assassination plot was hatching in England, to the knowledge and with the approval of the French sovereign and the exiled King James. Troops were collected at Calais to be pushed over so soon as the murder of King William was known to have been achieved. In the meanwhile a fleet of fifty-one sail was being prepared [58]at Toulon with considerable difficulty, partly through the penury of the French Government, partly because of the pertinacity of its sailors in resisting or evading service. The object of this armament was to provide a force which should be at hand to take advantage of the confusion expected to ensue on the violent death of King William. It is known to all that this complicated scheme of combined murder and military operations broke down. Fenwick’s plot was revealed to the Government. The great ships which had come home with Russell in the autumn were hurried to sea in February, and the French coast was patrolled and orders were sent to Rooke to return at once.

These orders reached him at a time when his mind was much exercised by reports of the approach of the French fleet from Toulon. He put to sea in the early days of March. The enemy had already sailed under the command of Châteaurenault. It is one more illustration of the rather modest standard of efficiency expected from the ship of the time, that to send a fleet to sea so early as March was counted hazardous. The result went to show that the estimate was not wholly unjust. Both fleets were scattered in a storm, and suffered damage. They returned to port, but again put to sea so soon as their injuries were made good. Rooke, who had the start, reached home on the 22nd April. Châteaurenault ran into Brest about a fortnight later—not unobserved, but unopposed. This escape of his fleet was added to the list of naval miscarriages of which Parliament was constantly complaining. Rooke and Mitchell were called to account, but no blame appears to have been thought to attach to them. Indeed, the error lay mainly in the Government. It ought to have kept a more powerful force in the Straits if it wished to prevent the French from leaving the Mediterranean. Fenwick’s plot was the last resolute effort made by the enemy against the Government established by the Revolution. Peace was becoming an absolute necessity for France, and it was made at Ryswick in 1697.

For a brief space both sides took breath, and then the struggle began again—the main cause being the resolution of the allies to prevent Louis XIV. from establishing a grandson of his own on the Spanish throne on terms which [59]would practically have annexed the vast possessions of the Spanish monarchy to the crown of France. England was drawn into the struggle with reluctance, and was in fact only provoked to fight when the French King, subordinating his duties as a sovereign to his feelings as a gentleman, recognised the son of the exiled James II. as King of England.

The accession of Queen Anne brought one change to the government of the navy. It had been the intention of King William in the last days of his rule to re-establish a Lord High Admiral. The Earl of Pembroke was chosen for the place, and the admirals who were to act as his advisers were named. By the king’s death all commissions were annulled, but his intention was carried out, though with a change of persons. The office of Lord High Admiral was revived in favour of the queen’s husband, Prince George of Denmark, who was provided with a council. Some fault was found with the legality of this measure, but it passed without serious opposition—thanks to the popularity of the queen, and the fact that public attention was turned elsewhere.

The war, though essentially a continuation of the former struggle, was begun, in so far at least as the naval side of it was concerned, in somewhat changed conditions. A grandson of King Louis now sat on the throne of Spain. It was the object of the allies, by whom, however, he had been at first recognised, to compel him to resign. Therefore it was sure that he would be their enemy to the extent of his power. An inevitable consequence of this change was that the allied English and Dutch fleets could no longer rely on being allowed to use Spanish ports. One of the earliest measures taken by the Queen’s Government was to send an officer, Captain Loades, to Cadiz to bring away the naval stores kept there for the use of our ships serving in the Straits and the Mediterranean. It shows to what an extent we had made use of this port, that the stores left there amounted to more than Loades could stow in the vessels with him. He was therefore compelled to sell part of them to the Spaniards at a loss. Two hulks belonging to us, and used for the purpose of “heaving down,” that is, lightening, and pulling on one side ships which it was necessary to [60]clean when they returned foul from a cruise, were towed out to sea and sunk. An experience of this kind must have quickened our desire to obtain possession of a port entirely our own.

Though Philip V. had been accepted by the Spaniards as their king, a party in favour of the Hapsburg dynasty was known to exist, and to be strong in the coast provinces. So upon the outbreak of the war in 1702, a fleet of fifty sail, of which thirty were English and twenty were Dutch, was sent to Cadiz under Rooke, carrying with it a strong force of soldiers under the Duke of Ormonde. It cleared the Channel on the 21st July, and after looking into Corunna went on to the south. On the 12th August it left Lisbon, which, since the Spanish ports were shut to us, and the King of Portugal was among the allies, had become our house of call and store magazine, as it had been in the Commonwealth wars. Very shortly the fleet was before Cadiz. The work to be done required, above all things, tact. It was the duty of the expedition to assail the Spaniards in so far as they were the armed supporters of King Philip V., but to propitiate them in so far as they were the potential supporters of the Hapsburg party. The chiefs so managed matters that they took no effectual steps against the armed forces of King Philip, while they allowed grievous wrong to be inflicted on the people of the country. Cadiz was bombarded to the injury of the inhabitants. Meanwhile the Puerto de Santa Maria, on the other side of the bay, was occupied by the English and Dutch, who applied themselves to drunkenness, the rape of women, and deliberate insults to the Roman Catholic religion—three kinds of violence exquisitely adapted to excite the scorn and hatred of the people of Andalusia. After a month and a little more of wrangling with one another, the chiefs, who could agree on nothing else, agreed to come away.

On the way home, information was received that several Spanish treasure galleons returning from America under protection of a French squadron commanded by Châteaurenault had put into Vigo. Here was a definite object offering a plain aim both to public spirit and private greed. Dissensions ceased. Sailor and soldier united in vigorous co-operation. [61]There is a spacious outer bay at Vigo, and a convenient, though smaller, inner anchorage reached through a narrow entry. A boom had been laid across this, and the French and Spaniards were anchored within. On the 12th October, the allies, led by Admiral Hopson, dashed at the boom while soldiers landed for the purpose turned the fortifications on shore. The French warships and Spanish galleons were either destroyed by the allies or by their own crews. The Government treasure had been disembarked and was far inland, but a good deal of miscellaneous pillage no doubt fell to the squadron and the troops. On the 19th the expedition sailed away, and reached England on the 7th November. Its doings added another chapter to the dreary history of parliamentary debates on “naval miscarriages.”

In 1703 a Grand Fleet went out to the Mediterranean under command of Cloudesley Shovell. It swept the coasts of Spain and Provence, endeavouring to quicken the Hapsburg party in Spain and to send help to the Protestants of the Cevennes, who were in revolt against King Louis—with no success in either case. But the following year saw operations of another order, forming a fruitful campaign—movements of large hostile armaments over a great area, a balance of forces, and a clash of conflict leaving permanent results.

At the close of 1703 the Archduke Charles, the Hapsburg claimant of the Spanish throne, was brought over to this country by Rooke from Holland. It was the purpose of the Government to send him south with such a force as would enable him to vindicate his rights. After delays caused by bad weather he sailed under the protection of Rooke on the 12th February 1704. The English admiral had with him only ten sail of the line, five English and five Dutch, but was accompanied by a swarm of transports and trading ships. He did not reach Lisbon till the 25th February. On the 2nd March reinforcements reached him under command of Sir John Leake, and on the 9th he went to sea in order to cruise for the outgoing Spanish trading fleet bound to the West Indies, which he did not meet though he took several other prizes. Orders were sent him to proceed up the Mediterranean for the purpose of forwarding the Hapsburg cause and aiding the coast towns of our ally the Duke of [62]Savoy. Rooke left Lisbon with thirty-seven sail, but no troops, and was off Cape St. Vincent on the 29th April. He now went on to the Mediterranean. On the 8th May he was off Cape Palos, north-east of the Spanish port of Carthagena. Here a small squadron of French ships was seen and chased. They were on their way to Cadiz. Complaints were made that though they were overtaken they were not attacked, and strong blame was thrown on Captain Andrew Leake for the failure. On the 10th the detached squadron rejoined the admiral, and on the 19th the fleet was off Barcelona. The Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt, who was with Rooke, had been governor of the province for King Charles II., and he was convinced, rightly enough as subsequent events proved, that the sympathies of the townsmen were with the Hapsburg cause. He wished to make an effort to induce them to rise, but Barcelona was held for King Philip by a strong garrison under the command of Don Francisco de Velasco, a man of rigorous character. The Catalans, like our own ancestors whether Whig or Jacobite, were too prudent to rise against regular soldiers till they were assured of solid support. This Rooke could not give. He had no troops with him, and he held himself bound to go on to the Riviera to aid the Duke of Savoy. A few hundred English and Dutch marines were landed, but no movement followed in the town, and they were re-embarked. Rooke therefore left the coast of Catalonia, and steered towards Provence.

The French fleet had left Brest early in May. It consisted of twenty-three vessels, under the command of the Count of Toulouse, a bastard son of the king’s, and a simple-minded honest man of no great faculty. The strain on the French king’s resources had not allowed him to equip great fleets in 1702 and 1703, but the events of those years showed him that an effort must be made. In 1704 he ordered squadrons to be prepared both in Brest and Toulon. The object was to unite them in the Mediterranean, where they could cut short further intrigues with the insurgent Huguenots, and give both moral and material support to his grandson in Spain. The English Government was aware of the preparations, and in April a strong fleet was collected in the Channel under Shovell. He had orders to retire up Channel, bringing [63]with him the store ships loaded for the squadron at Lisbon, if the enemy came on in great force. If, however, he heard that Toulouse had gone to the Mediterranean, he was to follow with not more than twenty-two sail, taking care to leave a sufficient force for the protection of trade in the home waters. On the 12th May Shovell obtained information that the French had gone south, and he therefore detached Sir Stafford Fairborn with light ships to Kinsale to act as a trade guard, and followed the enemy to the coast of Portugal.

The Count of Toulouse had a long start, and was nearing the neighbourhood of Rooke by the time Shovell reached Lisbon. In the latter days of May the position was this. On the 25th Rooke was joined by frigate, with the news that a French fleet had passed the Rock of Lisbon steering to the south. The frigate passed through the enemy at sea, and knew that they had entered the Mediterranean. Rooke also learnt from other sources that the towns of the Duke of Savoy were in no danger. A council of war was held, and it was resolved to return to the Straits. If the French fleet was met on the way it was to be engaged. The Count of Toulouse, with twenty-three sail of the line, was cutting across the route of the allies and heading for Toulon. Another French squadron was getting ready in that port somewhat tardily. Shovell was still distant, but was making his way out to join and put himself under the orders of Rooke. All these forces were converging by devious routes to a final clash of battle.

Important events were to take place before they met. On the 27th of May the ships of Toulouse were sighted by the look-out vessels of Rooke’s fleet. But the abounding caution of the commanders of that generation was shown once more. The average speed of the French ships was better than that of the allies, yet it would have been possible to bring them to action by ordering all the ships to sail at their best rate of speed in a “general chase,” when the quickest of the allies could have overtaken the slowest of the French. But to do this appeared dangerous to the flag officers of 1704, since it might subject them to attack in detail, and they pursued in a body, regulating their speed by that of the slowest sailer among them. Thus the Count of Toulouse kept and improved [64]his lead. On the 29th the allies were within ninety miles of Toulon. Then, fearing that all the French forces would unite and put them at a disadvantage, they returned down the Mediterranean. On the 14th June Rooke and Shovell united their forces in the Straits.

So far nothing very brilliant had been done, and the escape of Toulouse with his far inferior fleet was even discreditable to the allies. But now strong pressure was put on Rooke and his colleagues to act. Hitherto the conduct of the naval war had been of a somewhat peddling order. The buccaneering achievement at Vigo stood alone as a feat of any brilliancy. In the beginning of the war the failure of an officer named Munden (brother of him who retook St. Helena from the Dutch) to stop some French ships at Corunna, and his acquittal by a somewhat complacent court martial, had roused fierce anger in the country. There had since been a shameful business in the West Indies. The nation was becoming thoroughly tired of “naval miscarriages,” and the ministry was resolute that something should be done. Something doable lay at the very hand of the allied fleet. After hesitation, and discussions in the inevitable councils of war, it was resolved to make an attempt on Gibraltar, which Cromwell had indicated as a good post for us to hold half a century before. Though Rooke only acted under pressure, his conduct now compares very favourably with that of Russell in 1695. If he was slow and very cautious, at least he was resolute and exact. He did not allow the mere wind of the French fleet at Toulon to draw him off, but stood on guard with the bulk of his force, and sent in a squadron under George Byng to bombard the town, while a body of marines was landed under command of the Prince of Hesse, on the neck of the peninsula, to cut the garrison off from relief, at any rate, by small parties. Gibraltar even then was strong. Its fortification mounted a hundred guns, but its garrison of 150 men was ridiculously inadequate. On the 23rd the bombardment took place—the Spaniards making such reply as was possible to 150 men. The mole was swept by the fire of the ships’ guns, and then stormed by the sailors. An explosion, either deliberately caused by the Spaniards, or produced by one of our own men who dropped a light into a magazine, [65]did considerable harm to the stormers, and for a moment there was a panic. But the Spaniards were too few to take advantage of the chance, or indeed to man the walls. Next day the governor promised to surrender, and the town was delivered on the 25th. The total loss of the allies was 60 killed and 217 wounded, nearly twice the number of the Spanish garrison, and almost all English. They shed their blood honourably and profitably in adding this noble fortress to the “patrimony of St. George”—happier men than the thousands of their comrades who perished miserably in these wars, fever stricken in filthy ships, rotten with scurvy, starved, or poisoned by bad food.

Gibraltar newly taken, and shattered by the attack, was not as yet capable of serving as a port of war for the fleet. Not even water could be found in sufficient quantities. Twelve hundred marines were landed to form a garrison capable of repelling any sudden attack from the land, and a magazine was made up out of the stores of the ships. Then the allies stood over to Tetuan, and sought for provisions and water among the Moors. On the 9th August they had obtained what they wanted, when the captain of the Centurion, who had been on the watch to the eastward, came in with the news that the French fleet was at hand. Though the course to be followed in the event of such a foreseen occurrence as this might have been maturely considered already, a council of war had to be held. It was decided to work up towards the enemy, and give battle. If the Count of Toulouse, who, being to the eastward, had the weather-gage in the easterly wind blowing at the time, had been well advised, he would have forced on battle at once. But he manœuvred to avoid action, and even fell back towards Malaga. This gave the allies time to re-embark half the marines they had landed at Gibraltar. The meeting of the fleets was delayed till the 13th August. By that date the allies had got to windward of the French who were now between them and the fortress. Both fleets were heading to the south. At ten o’clock in the morning the allied line bore down on the French. Sir Cloudesley Shovell and Leake led the van. Rooke commanded in the centre with Dilkes and Wishart. The Dutch formed the rear of the line. In number of guns and ships the two fleets [66]were fairly equal, but the allies were short handed, and in want of ammunition. The course of the battle presented little of interest. Van was opposed to van, centre to centre, and rear to rear. They hammered each other with their guns, and the valour shown was great. Sir John Leake, if his Life is to be trusted, did wish to do more than fire and be fired into. He commanded the leading squadron in the allied line and was opposed to the French admiral, the Marquis de Villette Mursay. The French officer’s ship, the Intrépide, caught fire in the poop, and he bore out of the line to extinguish the flames. This movement was understood as a signal by the ships of his squadron, and they followed him to leeward. Leake now wished to pursue and break through the French line, but that fatal article in the Fighting Instructions, which prescribed the maintenance of one order throughout the action, interfered. He was told to remain where he was—and was reduced to be a spectator of the rest of the action, which took the form of a persevering exchange of blows between the centre and rear divisions of the two fleets. They separated at four in the afternoon, both much damaged. The battle of Malaga was one of the most bloody ever fought at sea. Nearly 3000 men fell in the allied line, and the loss of the French, who however only acknowledged 1500, cannot well have been much less. On their side, too, an extraordinary number of officers of distinction were slain.

For two days the fleets remained near one another. The wind shifted to the west, and gave the French the weather-gage, but they made no use of it to renew the battle. In the allied line many ships already depleted by the bombardment of the 23rd July, and the drafts made upon them to supply the Prince of Hesse with a magazine, had fired away almost all their powder. Some had run short in the action. They were prepared to accept battle if it was forced upon them, with the resolution to board the enemy, and settle it with cold steel since they could not use their guns. But in their hearts they were relieved—and no shame to them, and no credit to him—when Toulouse filed away northward to Toulon. Then they returned to Gibraltar Bay, where they remained till the 24th of August. The marines drawn from the garrison were again landed and damages made good as far as might be. On [67]that day Rooke sailed. On the 26th he told off a squadron to remain on the coast of Portugal with Leake, and sailed with his battered ships and sorely tried crews for England, which he reached on the 25th September.

Gibraltar having been taken was to be held, and as it was not yet sufficiently settled to be able to rely for long on its own strength, its salvation depended on Leake’s squadron. Sir John was hardly a great commander, yet from the day that he relieved Londonderry his conduct was always marked by a certain alacrity in action. During the winter of 1704-05, he stood by Gibraltar loyally and with energy. The Spaniards had collected an army to retake the town, and early in October the Prince of Hesse called for help. Leake came at once from Lagos with stores and encouragement. On hearing that a French naval force was approaching, he put to sea. Uncertainty as to the strength of the enemy and some damage received by bad weather induced him to return to Lisbon to refit, but he was back reinforced by the 29th October and had the deserved good luck to capture three French warships. Leake now remained by Gibraltar till the 21st December. On both these visits his guns relieved the pressure on the town by firing into the camp of the besiegers. Then he again went back to Lisbon. During his absence a French squadron under M. de Pointis arrived to form a blockade. On the 10th March, Leake was back again, and this time he destroyed five Frenchmen including the flagship in Gibraltar Bay. The remainder of Pointis’ ships fled to Toulon. Leake now remained till March. The besieging army broke up its camp in despair, and Gibraltar was safe. Leake was able to sail for England and reached it in April. As Gibraltar had been taken, so it was saved by the fleet, for the sake of which we hold it, and on which in the last resort it depends.

It is a striking coincidence that the year of the taking of Gibraltar was also the year of Blenheim. The superiority passed to the allies on land as well as on sea. Henceforth the French king could do less and less with his navy. Year after year the Grand Fleets poured out of the Channel in spring, and swept like a great tidal wave round the coasts of the Peninsula, and into the Gulf of Lyons. They made the capture of Barcelona, and its relief, possible. It was they who [68]enabled General Stanhope to take Port Mahon which, together with Gibraltar, remained in our hands at the end of the war. They kept the Hapsburg cause alive in Spain for a space. Yet their operations present only a repetition of similar incidents, and enforce always the same lessons: that where the road lies over the sea, the ships only can stop it for an invader, or open it for invasion—an obvious but apparently an easily forgotten truth.

Writing in 1704, Josiah Burchett, the Secretary of the Admiralty, had occasion to acknowledge the ill success of an expedition sent to the West Indies during the reign of King William; “but,” he went on, “when had we an opportunity, or at least when was there any attempt made by us from the beginning of the last war, to this very time, where the advantage proved in any degree equal to the charge and inconveniences that did attend it? The injuries we did to the French when Sir Francis Wheeler commanded in the West Indies were inconsiderable, and what have our successes been before and after that expedition? I doubt it was found that our squadrons came home in a much worse condition than when they set forth, both as to men, and all other circumstances; and not having the good fortune to do any sensible injuries to our enemy, they (i.e. the enemy) had the satisfaction of knowing what inconveniences we involved ourselves in.” The cruises carried out after 1704 might be summed up in much the same terms. As we were then engaged against the Spaniards as well as the French, a change was made in the scope of our operations. The peculiar character of Spanish trade with the new world, in which the most valuable portion of the home-coming cargoes was the bullion brought from the mines of Mexico and Peru, gave us an opportunity to achieve one success of a kind highly profitable to the officers and men engaged. In 1709, Sir Charles Wager captured a treasure ship, and he also inflicted loss on her companion ships, which was most injurious to the Spaniards. But this action stands almost apart in a long series of cruises of little interest, and no important result.

The nature of these operations can be shown by a brief account of the first. When the war began in 1689 it was felt that the French plantations in America, and more [69]especially those in Hispaniola, represented a portion of the enemy’s resources which it was desirable to diminish. The English officers in America were ordered to molest the French to the utmost of their ability. In order that they might be the better able to perform this duty they were reinforced by a squadron from Europe. It consisted of one third rate, seven fourth rates, one fifth rate, and of two fireships, and was commanded by Captain Lawrence Wright, an officer of some five-and-twenty years’ standing, who had been in the West Indies before. His orders were to ship the Duke of Bolton’s regiment of foot at Plymouth, and to sail for the Leeward Islands, that is the more northerly of the Lesser Antilles which stretch from the Virgin Islands to Dominica. Here he was to co-operate with Colonel Codrington, the governor, whose headquarters were at Antigua. The governor was to add what forces he could, and attacks were then to be made upon the French. Elaborate directions were given to Wright—that he was to be guided by a council of war, to act in so far as operations on shore were concerned, under the general direction of the military officers, to spare what sailors he could for operations on land, and not to send ships from his squadron without consent of the governor and council, lest the islands should be “exposed to insults.”

Thus directed, and with these limited powers, Captain Wright sailed from Plymouth on the 8th March 1690 with a number of merchant ships under his protection. Storms scattered the convoy immediately after it left the Channel, but it arrived safe at Madeira on the 2nd of April. On the 11th May it reached Barbadoes. Though only two months had passed since the squadron had left England, and it had stopped at Madeira, the crews were so sickly, presumably from scurvy, that Captain Wright was compelled to land many of his men to be cured, and could not sail till the 27th May. On the 30th of the month he reached Antigua. Colonel Codrington joined him with some soldiers, and a series of buccaneering operations was begun against the French at St. Christopher, and St. Eustatius to the west of Antigua, and at no great distance. Men were landed, forts taken, plantations plundered and burnt, negroes carried off. No attempt was made to hold the French islands, and this form of purely [70]destructive warfare went on till about the middle of July. The hurricane months (July, August, and September) were now upon them, both sailors and soldiers were sickly, and the expedition returned to Antigua. Wright went out to Barbadoes, and there remained till the 6th October. The island lies out of the usual track of the hurricane, and that danger is considered to be “all over” in October, though there have been some notable and destructive exceptions to these rules.

On the 6th October, Wright again sailed to join Codrington at Antigua, and a plan was laid for attacking the French island of Guadaloupe. It is to be noted that Wright’s crews having been sorely diminished by sickness, he had been compelled to press sailors from the merchant ships at Barbadoes. While the English squadron was collected for the purpose of attacking St. Christopher, the French privateers sailing from Hispaniola, Martinique and Guadaloupe, had been very busy. They were known to have captured numbers of our merchant ships, and the trade was threatened with ruin. Some of them cruised at their ease within sight of the shore at Barbadoes, taking the small vessels employed to bring from Virginia the bacon and maize which were the provisions needed for the negro slaves. There was even danger of famine. At Antigua, Wright was called off by orders to sail for England, and did actually come back as far as Barbadoes. Here, however, counter-orders were sent him to remain, and promises of reinforcements. In January of 1691 store ships, and one man-of-war, reached him. This addition to his force, small as it was, was yet welcome, for he had been compelled to detach vessels on convoy service, doubtless in answer to the loud outcries of the merchants. In February he again joined Codrington, and the scheme of attacking Guadaloupe was resumed. On the 27th of that month, Marie Galante, a little outlying island just south of Guadaloupe, was raided with the usual details of plunder and arson. Then a landing was effected on Guadaloupe, but in May these unworthy operations were brought to an end by the report that a French squadron had reached Martinique from Europe, and was coming on. At once the troops were re-embarked, not without signs of panic, and a council of war decided to return to Barbadoes. [71]Wright and Codrington had come to open quarrel. At Barbadoes the naval chiefs health broke down. He resigned his command, and sailed for home. Some of the ships followed him with a convoy. Others remained in the West Indies.

Wright, who left Barbadoes amid a chorus of jeers and accusations of cowardice, may fairly be considered to have had hard measure. He was never again employed at sea, though he held some dock-yard posts. There is nothing to show that he was a man to rise above adverse circumstances, but the bare narrative of the events of the cruise given above is his best excuse. Let us look at the facts, bearing meanwhile in mind that what is to be said of them applies in different degrees, but always to some extent, to every expedition we sent to the West Indies from the beginning of the war in 1689 down to the peace of Utrecht. In the first place the material force given to the commander was inadequate to the work he had to do. It was not sufficient to capture the principal French posts, yet he was ordered to make attacks on the enemy’s territory. The inevitable result was that, while he had his ships concentrated for miserable burning and plundering raids, the French privateers cruised unchecked. The blame for this rests mainly on the Government. It repeated in the West Indies the very mistake of ordering attacks on coast towns with insufficient forces, which as we have seen it was also making in the Channel. Then these material forces, too weak in themselves to begin with, suffered from causes serious enough to have paralysed greater powers. It was a brutal and greedy generation, callously indifferent to the well-being of the men. The younger Hawkins, and Lancaster—the captain of the East India Company—had shown how to keep crews healthy on long voyages even in the tropics. We had the example of the Dutch to guide us. Yet the chiefs of the navy allowed their men to rot from scurvy and perish by fever, not from want of knowledge, which they could have acquired at once if they had looked for it, but from mere hardness of heart and selfishness. The destruction of life by disease in our fleets was everywhere great, and in the West Indies it was enormous. Of the superior officers who sailed with Admiral Nevill in 1696-1697 only one captain lived to return home. The pestiferous squalor [72]of the lower deck avenged the sailors. At the close of Captain R. Wilmot’s expedition of 1695 one vessel was lost on the reefs of Florida, from sheer want of men to handle her sails. The sailors followed the example set them, and were affected by the spirit of their time. They found consolation for the hardships of life afloat in excesses on shore. Burchett assures us that the harbours of the West Indies were more fatal to the men than the sea.

In this atmosphere, as of a town smitten by plague where men hasten to enjoy while they can, sailors and soldiers were sent to plunder. Each soon began to suspect the other of attempting to defraud, and the passions of disappointed gamblers were added to the professional rivalry of men who in that generation were rarely honest enough to subordinate their passions to the general good of “the king’s service.” The fierce feuds of sailor and soldier flamed up in these expeditions, but the case of Admiral Benbow shows that a British admiral of that generation could not always rely on loyal and honest support even from his subordinates. Add to this, that jarring soldier and sailor elements were constantly called upon to combine in councils, and that they were both subjected to a vague check by the governors and councils of the islands. In such conditions effective operations were not possible.

While the Grand Fleets were cruising, often unopposed and never effectually checked by the French, while the colonial expeditions sailed year after year to fail, or at the best to achieve half successes, by their own defects rather than from the strength of their enemy, the allies suffered severely at sea from the enterprise of the corsairs who won for France nearly all the glory and profit she gained from these naval wars. This side of the struggle is of peculiar, indeed it may be said to be of contemporary, interest. French writers are fond of dwelling on the success of their privateers in the later seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries. They argue that it proves their national aptitude for swift destructive attacks on trade, and draw the deduction that if ever war breaks out again between them and us, they must revert to the methods of the men who, if they could not disturb the movements of the great allied fleets, did at least make the [73]conflict costly to English and Dutch commerce. It is their belief that if they can only do what those adventurers did on a somewhat larger scale, then England, which is far more dependent on trade than she then was, and is now under the obligation to import large quantities of food, which was not then the case, will find her superiority in fleets of no avail. We are looking then at what concerns us directly when we turn our attention to the doings of the French corsairs between 1689 and 1712.

Owing to a combination of circumstances the guerrillero, or partisan war of the sea, was then conducted in exceptionally favourable conditions. When they have been detailed, and the results reached have been summed up, we shall be in a position to judge how far those conditions, favourable as they were to the corsairs, were also of advantage to our enemy. This failure of the French fleet had a double effect. French coasting trade conducted in small vessels, fitted to hug the shore and take refuge under coast batteries, went on, disturbed, but not destroyed. But French oversea commerce was almost wholly suspended. Thus numbers of men were thrown out of employment, and the shipowners were driven to look elsewhere for profit. Both were inevitably turned to privateering. We had seen the same consequence ensue in Elizabeth’s reign, when the Spanish war interrupted our chief oversea trade. Again, so soon as the great fleets had no longer to be manned for cruising, the king had a strong motive to find other employment for his sailors and his officers. Therefore he allowed them to go on privateering voyages, and even hired out his vessels for the purpose or entered into partnership with the owners. Here again our own Elizabethan precedent was closely, if unconsciously, followed. Similar causes produced similar results, and as Elizabeth became the partner of “adventurers” on plundering expeditions to the West Indies, or to Cadiz, so King Louis entered into contracts with his armateurs for similar ventures. Finally, the French leaders of that generation were of much the same stamp as our Elizabethans. M. de Pointis, the Chevalier de Saint Pol, the Count de Forbin, Jean Bart, and Duguay-Trouin were the French equivalents of Raleigh, Cumberland, Drake, Frobisher, and Hawkins. Some of them won their way to social [74]position, and the royal service, by good fighting in the privateers. Others were king’s officers lent for the work.

While Tourville kept the sea, the share of the privateers in the war was small, and the harm they did very trifling in comparison to the injury inflicted on the Smyrna convoy by the French fleet in 1693. Only a part of their total later activity in the war directly concerned us. Jean Bart, a Fleming of the Flemish town of Dunkirk, cruised mainly against the Dutch in the North Seas. The two greatest single achievements of the French privateers, the capture of Carthagena by M. de Pointis in the reign of King William (1697), and the capture of Rio de Janeiro by Duguay-Trouin in the reign of Queen Anne (1711), were directed against the Spaniards and the Portuguese respectively. They were very similar to Drake’s raid on the West Indies in 1585. The Dunkirk privateers preyed on our commerce after their town had become French, as they had done while it formed part of the Low Country possessions of the King of Spain. We blockaded it with indifferent success. Other ports also sent out their corsairs. Our chief interest is with the Breton town of St. Malo, and with the activity of its hero Réné Duguay-Trouin. He used other ports, Dunkirk or Rochelle occasionally, and Brest often. He co-operated with other men, notably with the Count of Forbin, but St. Malo was his headquarters and also the typical corsair town, while he was the central dominating figure of the corsair war. Jean Bart died in the middle of the conflict. Forbin had other activities. Saint Pol, Nesmond, and many more who could be named, were subordinate. Following the scheme of this book, I take him as the characteristic illuminative example.

The Breton town of St. Malo stands on the northern coast of the Duchy towards the eastern end, and close to Normandy. It is on the eastern end and at the mouth of the Rance. At that time it was still an island, not yet turned into a peninsula by a causeway. It was surrounded by ancient mediæval walls of less extent than the present fortifications. The population were seamen, traders in peace, corsairs in war. There were local leaders, burgesses not counted as nobles, but in the odd old French phrase “living nobly” as merchants and shipowners, not by retail trade, nor manual [75]labour. The approach to the Rance is dangerous, through reefs and over a bar, but there is good anchorage inside. The privateers of St. Malo had been recognised as a useful force, and their organisation had been controlled by the crown since the fifteenth century. It had been finally fixed by Colbert. The captains sailed with a recognised commission and large powers, extending even to life and death, for the maintenance of discipline. The crews were recruited by free enlistment, and received wages, which might go to fifteen crowns for the course or cruise of four months. Custom, embodied in royal ordinances, regulated the division of the prize. After payment of legal expenses, and of ten per cent. to the Admiralty of Brittany (a separate office from the Admiralty of France), two-thirds belonged to the owner, and the remaining third was divided among the officers on a fixed scale, while the men were rewarded at discretion by gifts in addition to their wages. When the king lent the ship he took a fifth of the prize, after the deduction of legal expenses, and admiral’s fees. The adventurers who helped to fit the vessel out, with their officers and the crew, divided the remainder.

Among the armateurs, merchants, and shipowners of St. Malo “living nobly,” the family of Trouin had a conspicuous place. Luc Trouin de la Barbinais, father of the corsair, had himself served against the Dutch and Spaniards. Réné, who afterwards added Duguay to his name to distinguish himself from his elder brother, was a younger son of a large household. His parents had intended him for a priest, and he had some schooling from the Jesuits at Rouen. But he was not made for the church. When the war opened in 1689 he was seventeen years old, and his family allowed him to follow his natural bent. He began his career as a volunteer in one of the ships of the firm. These were light craft, provided with guns, but relying mainly on their large crews. It was not their interest to destroy their prize, so whether she was a small warship (a large one they would naturally avoid) or a merchant vessel, their method was always the same, namely, to run alongside, or to run the bowsprit over the waist of their opponent, and to carry her at a rush. A very short apprenticeship was considered enough for one of [76]the owners’ family. In his second year the young Réné was already in command of a light cruiser. In 1692 he captured an English convoy. In 1693 he cruised at the mouth of the Channel in the Hercule, 30, and took two rich English prizes. In 1694 he commanded the Diligente, 36, and after some success was captured by an English squadron. He was carried as prisoner to Plymouth, but escaped by the help of a pretty shop girl who had a lover among the gaolers. At that time he was in peril of severe treatment, for he had broken the laws of war, out of bravado, by firing a derisive shot at a heavy English vessel before hoisting his own flag and sailing off. After his escape his brother gave him the Francois, 48. In this vessel he took part in the capture of an English convoy protected by two men-of-war, the Sanspareil and the Boston. Here we have to note that a change—a very significant change—came over the corsair war about this time.

In the first three years of the war the privateers cruised alone, picking up what straggling merchant ships they met. But the allies answered by sending their trade under protection of warships in convoys. It therefore became necessary to make the attack with forces capable of overcoming the guard. So the corsairs began to cruise in well-appointed squadrons of four, six, or ten ships, in part commonly supplied by the king. These forces flew at far higher game than the straggling merchant ship. Their course was identical with that following in the ensuing century by Hawke, when he assailed Desherbiers de l’Etenduère, namely, to fall upon the warships first. When the French were in sufficient numbers both to throw a superior force on the men-of-war, and to spare vessels to capture the merchant ships at once, they did so; when this was not the case they disposed of the armed guard. They made no attempt to form a precise order themselves, but swept down on the guardships of the convoy, attacking always by two or more against one, and overpowering their enemy in detail. The protecting English and Dutch ships made many gallant fights, but they showed little readiness to meet attack by counter-attack. It was their custom to form a line and wait to be assailed. This passive attitude left the Frenchman free to make his arrangements as he pleased. Duguay-Trouin, [77]and his colleagues, still relied much upon large crews, and upon boarding. Yet an alert, well-handled ship could often avoid being grappled. For instance, we often hear how a French corsair swept down on the side of some Englishman or Dutchman, but failed to grapple because the wary opponent had “thrown all aback,” that is to say, had pulled the yards round so as to present the front of the sails to the wind. This would stop his motion, and begin to make him move backwards. If now the attacking ship, which by the necessity of the case would be going with the impetus of high speed, ranged up alongside she might miss her aim, or the large iron hooks called grappling-irons, which she threw out to take hold of her prey, might not get fixed; or again they might, but the ropes to which they are fastened broke under the strain of the diverging masses. Then the assailant would shoot ahead, and the vessel attacked would have a chance to cross her path, and sweep her with a broadside. In order to have something more than the boarders to rely on, the corsairs increased the size of their vessels and broadsides, till they sailed with ships of fifty-six guns. Still the favourite method of the corsairs was to rush to close quarters, on both sides at once when they could, and throw an irresistible force of boarders on the enemy’s deck.

Many hot fights of this kind took place in both divisions of the war. One of the most desperate was fought in 1697 between Duguay-Trouin and the Dutch Bilbao convoy under Baron Wassenaer. The years from 1693 to 1697 were, on the whole, at least in so far as we were concerned, the most profitable to the corsairs. Our navy was still staggering from the administrative vices of King Charles’s reign, and the Government was hampered by financial embarrassments. The merchants complained that the protection was insufficient, and was supplied late, so that they lost the season, and the market, and were put to heavy expense while waiting for their guard. Officials replied that they did what they could, and accused the merchant captains of bringing misfortunes on themselves by leaving the protection of the warships, to hurry on as they neared home. There was truth on both sides. It is certain that merchant skippers both then, and for long afterwards, were often tempted to run risks by the hope of [78]getting in early, and well ahead of competitors in the market. Yet the constant successes of the privateers show that the navy was not well handled.

We renewed the war in more favourable conditions, and with a better experience. On the whole, the corsairs had far less success. Nevertheless, even in this period, Duguay-Trouin hit us some shrewd blows. In 1705 he took a large English man-of-war, the Elisabeth. In 1707 he sailed in combination with Forbin, at the head of a squadron of twelve vessels. Their orders were to intercept a convoy of military stores which the English Government was sending to Spain under the protection of three large men-of-war, the Devonshire, 80, the Cumberland, 80, and the Royal Oak, 74, with the Chester and the Ruby of 50 guns. It was met, and scattered off the Lizard on the 10th October after very hard fighting. The English captains fought most bravely, but no more can be said in their favour. Though our squadron was outnumbered it contained three vessels far superior in strength to any among the French. Moreover, they were divided when the action was begun by Duguay-Trouin who rushed straight at us. Yet Captain Richard Edwards who commanded did not attempt to do more than present a defensive barrier between the merchant ships and the oncoming French, who were thus able to concentrate as they pleased, and crush him in detail. As a captain he did his duty manfully, fighting his ship, the Cumberland, till she was dismasted, and unable to resist further. The Chester and Ruby were also taken. The Devonshire fought till evening, when she blew up with the loss of all her crew, except three, and of three hundred soldiers she was carrying out to Spain. While this fierce conflict was in progress, the transports and merchant ships made their escape, and most of them reached Lisbon.

Here we might leave Duguay-Trouin, for his later services did not greatly concern us. Yet it belongs to our story to record that in the following year he cruised with ten ships, hired by, or belonging to, himself and his brothers. No prize was met, and the expense of keeping so many vessels at sea to no purpose nearly brought the house of Trouin to ruin. This fact in his career supplies an opportunity for summing up the corsair war. It brought him, we see, fame but not profit, [79]and it may be added that this is what it did for France. Looking at it as a whole we note that it gives no support to the often-renewed contention, that attacks by cruisers on sea-borne trade can of themselves bring a maritime power to submission. The work, often tried, has never been better done, and we may feel sure never will be better done than by Duguay-Trouin, and the men he represents here. Yet we see that it did not stop the march of the Grand Fleets of the allies for a day, nor did it ever dam up the main stream of their commerce. Again, the achievements of this famous corsair do by no means prove that single ships, however swift, can destroy commerce. It was while trying to prey on our shipping single-handed that Duguay-Trouin became a prisoner at Plymouth. Precisely the same experience befell Jean Bart, and Forbin at Portsmouth. Their successes were gained in well-appointed squadrons able to meet the shock of battle. The moral of the story is that a maritime power can always defeat the attacks of single ships on its trade by giving convoy. The protecting squadron can only be overpowered by a force like itself, and we come at once to operations of war far beyond the power of the mere corsair or commerce destroyer who relies on his speed only. Success in these operations must finally fall to whichever side possesses the most numerous, and the best-appointed squadrons.



Authorities.—This chapter has been founded mainly on: Rooke’s Journal, published for the Navy Records Society; the Minutes of the Court-Martial on Stucley and Brookes of the Milford; Lillingston’s Reflections on Mr. Burchett’s Memoirs, and Burchett’s Justification of his Naval Memoirs, published separately, but sometimes found together; Maydman’s Naval Politics; and William Hodge’s An Humble Supplication of the Seamen’s Misery.

When the war of the Spanish Succession came to an end, the navy held perhaps an even higher place than it has occupied since. At the signing of the Peace of Utrecht, Great Britain was not so much the greatest naval power in the world as the only power. Holland had been overtaxed by the necessity of taking a foremost place in the war on land; France was bled nearly to death; Spain had ceased to possess even the show of a fleet. The Scandinavian nations and Russia were confined to the Baltic. Elsewhere there was nothing. In the midst of this general prostration we ruled at sea, not only without an equal, but without a second.

There was a great danger in a supremacy of this nature. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and he who is the best because the others are very bad may himself be far from good. The truth concerning the British navy during the earlier eighteenth century is that it owed at least as much to fortune as to its merits. At heart it was sound, and moreover it existed by a necessity, and in conformity with the nature of things, since it was for this country the indispensable instrument not only of power but of safety. Therefore it could not absolutely fail till the nation behind it withered. None the less it was hampered by defects, which might well have proved all but ruinous, had our enemy been more [81]capable. Yet that he sank so completely by his own weakness was perhaps, in the long run, a misfortune to us. A sound beating at some not vital point, which could have been demonstrated to be the result of maladministration, would probably have roused the nation into taking the Admiralty and the navy in hand, and would have been for our good. No such lesson was inflicted, and we drowsed on in rather ignoble toleration for a dull half-century. A sound beating at some not vital point which could have been shown to be the result of pedantic adherence to a stupid method of fighting might have stung the navy itself into intellectual activity. Again no such lesson was given, and the navy drowsed on in brainless acquiescence to the Fighting Instructions. Great then as our position was, when compared with our neighbours’, we were yet at a level from which we could not have sunk without becoming dangerously bad.

It is a significant fact that the mere quality of our ships was poor. The superiority of the French shipbuilding, already noticeable in the reign of Charles II., was maintained for long. When Spain began to revive under the Bourbon dynasty she also constructed vessels far superior to ours. In the year after the renewal of warfare in 1739 a Spanish 70-gunship, the Princesa, which however only mounted 64 guns, was taken by three English vessels of the same rate. It cost them five hours and a half of fighting to get her, and although this no doubt speaks well for her captain and crew, her long resistance to apparently overwhelming force was largely due to her fine build. She was of 1709 tons, whereas English vessels of the same rating were only of 1225; therefore she would be stronger and could carry a heavier battery. Her lower deck ports were higher out of the water, and could be worked when ours had to be closed in bad weather. The inferiority of our ships, rate for rate, to the French and Spanish had been noted before, and had produced some effect, but the capture of the Princesa gave a much needed stimulus. Nor was it only in size, and what depends on size, that our ships were inferior. Their lines were poor, so that they were crank (i.e. liable to overturn) and sailed badly. To some extent this inferiority of our models was due to economy. The Admiralty made its vessels of weak scantling, that is with [82]a minimum of timber, and preferred to patch up old ships rather than build new ones, and therefore perpetuated inferior types. This was also part of the general slackness of the time. We were content to be guided by routine, and to leave the building of our ships in the hands of shipwrights who were mere artisans going by traditional rule of thumb.

The difficulty of knowing what sort of men the officers and crews of our old navy were is very great. They have left small record of themselves, and they were too remote from the general life of their time to come under the notice of ordinary witnesses. The pictures we do possess of them are mostly drawn by satirists of whom one only, Smollett, was a man of genius and had personal experience. Unfortunately his spirit was bitter, and his purpose led him to pick out mainly the most extravagant and worst parts of his subject. Records of courts martial, again, tell a good deal, but it is necessary to remember they also are of the nature of selections of the worst. It was the bad not the good officer who came before a court martial. Pamphlet controversies reveal something, but once more it is the worst. That our navy sailed the sea in such bad ships with comparatively few disasters is proof of its seamanship. That its fighting was on the whole successful, in spite of absurd rules and of defective intelligence in leadership, shows that though the head lay wrong, the heart was right. All the materials were there, they only wanted better handling.

The evils afflicting the navy are easy enough to see. First among them was brutality. The times were hard. A glance at the trials which arose out of General Oglethorpe’s agitation against the management of some of our prisons will show how callous our ancestors could be in the early eighteenth century. The navy produced no General Oglethorpe. Though many officers sat in Parliament, none of them made a serious attempt to check the unquestionable ill-usage of the sailors. From that we may draw the deduction that they wanted humanity to incur the ill-will of the Admiralty by insisting on reform, or that they were indifferent to the miseries of others; or finally that, like the Roman Prefectus Castrorum, who had been a common soldier, and who was known to the men as “Bring another,” because he was for ever breaking sticks on [83]their backs and calling for more, they were all the harder because they themselves had suffered.

Here is one brief passage of naval manners in the early eighteenth century, written by a naval pen in the Journal of Rooke’s expedition to Cadiz in 1702:—

“At six this evening Captain Norris coming on board this ship [the flagship] my Lord Hamilton, Captain Ley, Captain Wishart, and Captain Trevor, were standing on the quarter-deck, and as Captain Norris came up, Lord Hamilton asked him if he had taken any more wine or brandy. This means whether he had captured a ship laden with this kind of cargo. The other answered No; upon which Captain Trevor asked the price of his claret, whether he might have any at 4 li a hogshead. Norris said he would have 6 li or salt water, and then Captain Ley said he would rather the prizes were ashore than he would give the 6 li the hogshead; upon which Captain Norris said he was a rascal that he wished his prizes ashore; the other replied he was a rascal if he called him so; and then Captain Norris struck Captain Ley and threw him over the gun, which Mr. Hopsonn hearing, as he and I were in my cabin, ran out, and upon inquiry found he [Norris] had hurt Captain Ley, and by the admiral’s directions ordered him to be confined, upon which Captain Norris drew his sword, and offered to stab Captain Ley, but Admiral Hopsonn, holding his hand, ordered him to be disarmed, and confined in Mr. Rayney’s cabin.”

It is a scene of huckstering and violence on the very quarter-deck of the flagship. Yet though Ley died soon afterwards, perhaps from the effect of the blow, Norris was never called to account, and lived to be the most distinguished officer of the reign of George I. and the early years of George II.

The same Journal, under an earlier date, makes mention of one Captain William Moses of the Milford who accused his lieutenant and one of his midshipmen of attempting to murder him. It turned out on inquiry that he had wounded himself, in order to bolster up charges which he was bringing against these officers. They were brought to a court martial, the lieutenant was acquitted, and the midshipman let off with [84]a mild rebuke. The story of this latter, whose name was Cæsar Brookes, is worth quoting from the minutes of the court martial.

The witnesses, who disagree in many details, are at one in saying that in the middle watch of a certain night, when the ship was on the coast of Africa, the captain, one Mr. Mite a passenger, and various officers, were sitting together on the quarter-deck drinking wine. Here the agreement ceases. Mr. Cæsar Brookes joined the party, and then, according to the captain, he voluntarily, without provocation, and out of pure native arrogance, advanced the proposition that he could fight any two men—nay, he swore he could. For this he was rebuked by the captain, who told him he might perchance meet one who was a better man than himself. To this Mr. Brookes, flaming into outrageous disrespect, answered, “Well, damme, you’re not,” and was thereupon justly confined for his mutinous behaviour. Brookes gives a very different version of the affair. According to him, he was only arguing that in defending narrow passages one man, if conveniently placed, could fight two—a scientific question of shock tactics, in fact, very proper for an officer to discuss. For this he was first abused and then put under arrest, though his carriage throughout was of the most respectful kind. The witnesses do not, with two suspicious exceptions, support the captain’s version of what took place. The exceptions are sailors who tell the same tale like parrots. One of them had been let out of irons by the captain, although he had beaten the gunner, after the quarter-deck scene be it observed. If the court martial thought that Captain Moses had been attempting subornation of perjury, it was not without excuse. Now follows a scene in the captain’s cabin, in which, teste Captain Moses, he was bearded by his extra midshipman; but Mr. Brookes says it was otherwise, and that he was assaulted. Certain it is that the midshipman remained in confinement for six mortal months in the sweltering heat of the Guinea Coast. At Cape Coast Castle, Captain Moses had reason to believe that his life was threatened by the implacable and unbridled Brookes. It seems that Mr. Donnidge the surgeon went to have a conversation with the imprisoned midshipman, and by way of telling him something [85]really worth hearing, let him know that the captain had taken medicine and that it had done no good. Mr. Brookes, on hearing that physicians had so far been in vain, remarked that if he could meet the captain on shore he would give him two pills that should move him. Hereupon Mr. Donnidge rushed out, and finding the captain’s boat manned alongside, warned the crew to keep a good watch, for he believed that their commander’s life was threatened. Something of Mackshane the toady surgeon in Smollett’s Roderick Random seems to hang about Mr. Donnidge. Then there is another story of an anonymous letter found in the captain’s cabin, warning him that the lieutenant and the midshipman were plotting to raise a mutiny and run away with the ship. The letter was either an impudent practical joke or another device of this remarkable naval captain’s, much on a level with the wound on his leg. The notes are but brief, and many clues were not followed up; but one ends with the conviction that the court martial came to a sound and humane decision. It told Mr. Brookes that he had plainly been too free with his tongue, but that six months’ arrest on the coast of Africa was quite punishment enough, and it dismissed the captain’s rigmarole story of conspiracy to murder and mutiny as frivolous and vexatious.

The name of Captain Moses may serve as connecting link to another tale of the sea life of that time. It was told in 1704 by an army officer of the name of Colonel Luke Lillingston, in the course of a controversy with Burchett, the Secretary of the Admiralty, and historian of the naval wars of King William and Queen Anne.

In 1695 an expedition left England to harass the French West Indies. The squadron was commanded by Captain Robert Wilmot, and the soldiers were under the command of Colonel Lillingston. As a military operation it was of no importance, and its character has been sufficiently described in the previous chapter. Our subject here is naval human nature as it was displayed towards the close of the seventeenth century and remained for two generations. Lillingston had served as Lieutenant-Colonel of Foulkes’s regiment in the expedition of Sir Francis Wheeler in 1692, and had, he tells us, seen instances of the “arbitrary behaviour” of naval officers. [86]So extreme was this, and so much was it resented by military men that in 1695 they were most reluctant to subject themselves to “the ill usage and insolent behaviour of commanders at Sea, especially to officers of the army.” Lillingston moved, he assures us, by a sense of duty, agreed to go with Wilmot. A regiment was made up for him by drafts from others, and the expedition sailed at the end of January. The naval commander, who as senior captain was called commodore, carried two women with him, in defiance of the regulations, and, so the soldier asserts, was on various occasions “pleased to be very drunk.” He touched at Madeira, and on the way there had the following conversation with Lillingston. The men had not been on good terms, and we see clearly that the soldier expected the sailor to be brutal, and was on the watch for instances of “arbitrary behaviour.”

“He (i.e. Wilmot) told me he found I was a little strange to him, and [that he] should be glad we might understand one another better. I told him, I thought if there was any strangeness it was on his side, and as we had both promised His Majesty to maintain an entire confidence, and a friendly correspondence, it should not be my fault if we did not, and so offered, forgetting all that was past, to begin a more sociable agreement from that time, and so we drank to one another again. ‘But,’ says the Captain, ‘our agreement is very necessary on our own accounts, for if it be not our own faults we may both make our fortunes in this voyage, and provide for ourselves as long as we live.’ With all my heart said I, I shall endeavour not to be wanting to myself provided the King’s business be done too. ‘Damn the King’s business,’ says he, ‘we will do the King’s business, and our own too. But I’ll be free, with you,’ says the Captain, ‘I had the misfortune to kill a man (and I think named him) and it has almost ruined me, for it has cost me above a thousand pound, and I am resolved this voyage shall pay for it, and if you will join with me in such measures as I shall propose, this voyage shall make up all our losses.’”

Lillingston refused, and Wilmot went off in the sulks, growling:—


“Well well” says he “if you don’t think fit to join with me you may let it alone, but I am resolved to make myself amends. I won’t go to the West Indies to learn the language. I’ll take care of myself, let the King’s business go how it will.”

When the squadron reached Madeira, Wilmot endeavoured to get rid of the military officers. He seized an opportunity to sail while most of them were ashore buying provisions. A sudden gale was his pretext. Fortunately his ships were scattered in a storm; one of them came back to Madeira, and the officers were picked up. At a council of the officers of both arms, Wilmot had refused to allow Lillingston’s captain-lieutenant to sit, alleging that no officer under the rank of captain had a right to a seat. Now the captain-lieutenant, according to the military customs of the time, commanded what was counted as the colonel’s company and ranked as the senior captain. Wilmot was induced to see reason by the arguments of the commissary Murray; but Lillingston, not unfairly, quotes his conduct as an example of pure arbitrary insolence. He had turned the captain-lieutenant out of the cabin “with a rudeness that I had never seen among gentlemen.” At the Leeward Islands Wilmot was again “pleased to be very drunk,” and went the length of offering to give away commissions in Lillingston’s regiment. The military and naval elements came, in fact, to open quarrel. From the Leeward Islands this jarring expedition went on first to San Domingo, where some Spaniards, then our allies, joined us. There was delay, wrangling, and an incessant conflict between soldier and sailor. Wilmot, says Lillingston,

“loitered away six days in the Bay. During this time how his people were employed I know not, but as for himself he spent the time in diversions every day rowing about the bay in his barge with the Ladies, and attended by trumpets and all the music of the fleet in other boats to recreate himself and the women, with the pleasantness of the country.”

When at last the expedition got to its work of plundering the French settlements in Haiti, Captain Wilmot, who had been joined by various Jamaica privateers, kept ahead of the [88]troops as they marched along on shore, and applied himself to robbing the plantations, particularly of their negroes, who were then very valuable booty. At Port de Paix the commodore made his last attempt to induce the colonel to come to an understanding for their common advantage:

“But smiling he takes me by the hand and leading me aside he told me he wanted to speak with me, and now he showed himself in his own colours a second time and made his last attempt to bring me over to him; he told me he would comply with all the orders of our council of war, and assist me with all the men he could spare, and do everything he could to forward the service if I would but join with him in one thing, and allow a second. The first was I should consent to his having an equal share of the plunder with me in case the fort should be taken.

“To this I made him no answer but asked him what was his second proposal. ‘Why,’ says he, ‘if you will join with me when the fort is taken and all done that can be done on the island we will carry these three Spanish men-of-war away with us to Jamaica, for,’ says he, ‘the dogs have got a great many of the negroes, and other plunder, and if you will consent,’ says he, ‘we’ll make them pay us well before we part with them.’ [Lillingston objected that this would be dishonest and would certainly get them into trouble at home.] ‘’Tis no matter for that,’ says the commodore, ‘we are a great way off England, and it may be long enough before the news of it will come there. We may make it worth our while and may easily make it up when we come home.’ I told him I could not concern myself in such a thing unless the Spaniards gave us some just occasion. ‘Occasion,’ says he, ‘there is occasion enough, for they have got away our negroes, and it is easy enough to pick a hole in their coats on that account, and answer it at home.’”

Wilmot’s confidence that news took a long time to come home from the West Indies, and that accusations were easily answered by people who had money in their pockets, was not unfounded. Strange things happened in those waters. It may well have been within the commodore’s memory that in [89]the reign of Charles II. a man-of-war sent out to suppress the buccaneers had gone over to them, after her captain had run his master through the body, and had then fled.

It is unnecessary to dwell much more on this story. Port de Paix fell, and then the fever broke out among the sailors and soldiers, both the allies separated and returned to their own ports. Lillingston became very ill, and while in bed, and as he thought dying, was pestered by several of the captains, William Moses being one of them, to sign certain papers which were meant, he supposed, to exculpate the commodore. The military officer asserts that Wilmot stopped on the north side of Jamaica, and there sold the negroes he had plundered, for twenty pounds a head, putting the money into his pocket. Lillingston remained ill in Jamaica, and the ships returned home by the Straits of Florida. The fever went with them. One vessel was lost on the Florida shoals from want of men to handle her sails. Some of her crew were brought off. Others were left to perish in the surf because they had broken into the spirit-room, and were hopelessly drunk. Wilmot died of fever, and so did Captain Lance who succeeded him. The command fell to Captain Butler who brought the squadron home. In England the commodore’s widow, Ruth Wilmot, accused Butler of having broken into her husband’s desk, and of having stolen his plunder. A lawsuit followed which ruined both. In the course of the suit affidavits were produced by both sides, and one of these, made on behalf of Captain Butler, for the purpose of discrediting the witness of Ruth Wilmot, gives a curious picture of the discipline of the navy at that time. It deals with the moral characters of one Theophilus Buxton and others.

“Theophilus Buxton during such his employment (of steward to wit) was a person guilty of frequent drunkenness, abominable profaneness, execrable oaths, blasphemy, thieving and embezzlement, and the said Buxton and John Heath having, in one of their drunken fits at sea, set a candle on a jar of oil in the steward’s room next to the powder room, by which means the oil took fire, the said ship with all that was in her had in all probability been burnt or blown up had not the second lieutenant of the ship, with much difficulty and [90]hazard, put out the fire, for which offence the said Buxton, and John Heath had about forty lashes apiece given them by order of Captain Butler, then commander of the said ship, and after the said Buxton came into the harbour he ran away from the said ship. And these deponents further say, that they likewise well know John Brinley, mariner in the said Dunkirk, who was a person very negligent of his duty, and very seditious, and at Portsmouth threatened his said Captain, and to kill one of the lieutenants of the said ship, and attempted to head the ship’s company in an open mutiny, and these deponents believe that the said Buxton, Heath, and Brinley are such profligate persons that they will swear anything that their malice and desire of revenge can dictate to them.”

It must not be supposed that the navy captain, who was a mere brute, was always a man of obscure birth. In August 1742 a court martial was held at Spithead for the trial of an officer, who, if long descent, rank, and family connections were always, and not only as a rule, enough to form a gentleman, ought assuredly to have been one. This was the Honourable William Hervey, third son of the first Earl of Bristol of the name. He had been captain of the Superb, 60, in the fleet which sailed for the West Indies under Sir Chaloner Ogle in 1740, and he was proved to the satisfaction of a court composed of brother officers, and presided over by Admiral Cavendish, to have been guilty of conduct surpassing anything Smollett has described in his grim pictures of the navy. His first and second lieutenants, the gunner and purser of his ship, swore that he beat an old seaman named White so brutally that the man was carried insensible to his hammock, and died there accusing the captain of being the cause of his death; that he often beat the quarter-masters from the wheel with a cudgel, and had on one occasion actually endangered the ship in this way, during a paroxysm of rage; that he once threw a paper under the table of his cabin, ordered a subordinate to pick it up, and kicked him while on his knees, to the peril of his life; that he injured his gunner seriously by a foul kick; that he thrashed his purser on the deck at Kinsale; that he threatened to beat all his officers, “from the first lieutenant to the cook’s boy,” and that he not only abounded [91]in abusive terms, but enforced them by insulting gestures. Captain Hervey’s defence consisted of the plea that he was never violent in word or action except when he was provoked, and in an unsupported counter-charge of cruelty to certain Spanish prisoners against his first lieutenant, which the court dismissed. It is consistent enough that while violent captains behaved with a brutality never heard of now except among the roughest and most ignorant class of the community, officers of weak character had some difficulty in obtaining ordinary respect from their subordinates. The discipline of the navy, in the highest sense of the word, was bad, though its mere drill might be sound. There was not as yet a standard of conduct, a prevailing spirit of honour to control and inspire all alike.

Men with whom the loyal discharge of duty is not the first aim, want only temptation and opportunity in order to disgrace themselves in the very presence of the enemy. The charge of cowardice was frequently made at this time. It was indeed one of the regular taunts brought against bad commanders. We may believe that in a sense it was often unjust. Brutal men are not seldom endowed with animal courage, and do not always fail from mere fear. Indeed that weakness would hardly be common among those who, by their own choice, followed a dangerous profession. What, however, we might expect to discover among officers, who agreed with Wilmot in the resolution to look after their own business, and to make themselves easy for life, was a want of the sense of honour which feels a stain like a wound. They would easily be guilty of avoiding battle when no profit was to be expected, not out of pusillanimous tenderness for their personal safety, but because to their base minds there was no advantage to be secured by running risks. If by any chance the cupidity which restrained them from obeying honour and duty was stirred to active malignity by hatred of a comrade or of a superior, if, moreover, they were far away from home and might hope, even foolishly, to escape punishment, such persons would be capable of sinking to well-nigh any excess of baseness. By keeping these conditions in mind, we can understand that most shameful passage in the history of the Royal Navy, the betrayal of Benbow by his captains in August 1702.

Not much is known of the early life of John Benbow, [92]about whom some legends have accumulated and who has a higher reputation than his recorded services justify, partly perhaps because his name strikes the ear, and partly because of his melancholy end. His origin is uncertain. That he was trained to the sea in the merchant service is known. He served in a subordinate place in the navy for a time, and he attracted the notice of James II. by making a manful defence of the trading ship he commanded against a Barbary pirate. That he cut off the heads of his prisoners, put them into a bag with salt, and tumbled them out on the floor of the custom house at Cadiz may or may not be true. It is a credible tale of one who assuredly was a thorough Tarpaulin, and also it may well have been invented of such a man, or transferred to him, from some older legendary sea hero. Common report says that he had a rough tongue, and we may accept its testimony. The “gentlemen captains” of the time would no doubt have defined him as a “Wappineer Tar,” the abusive equivalent of Tarpaulin. His reputation must have been good, for he was chosen to command a squadron in the West Indies after the Peace of Ryswick, and was sent back again in 1701 to intercept the Spanish plate ships which afterwards fell into our hands at Vigo. His movements are of little interest till August 1702. In that month he sailed to intercept a French squadron commanded by M. du Casse on the Spanish Main. On the 19th he discovered his opponent with a squadron of ten ships, and immediately attacked with the eight vessels he had with him. His line was formed in the usual way, his flagship, the Breda, being in the centre, and the others ahead and astern of her. Two of his ships, the Defiance, Captain Kirkby, and the Windsor, Captain Constable, fairly ran soon after the action opened. If the French admiral had pushed his advantage he must have destroyed Benbow’s squadron. But M. du Casse was on treasure-carrying duty, and did not care to incur the hazard of having his ships crippled. After doing some damage to the Breda, he drew off at night. Benbow now rearranged his line, putting the Breda at the head, and placing the misbehaving ships, the Defiance and Windsor, immediately behind her, in the hope of shaming their captains into some sense of honour. But example is wasted on men resolved to misbehave. [93]For four days the admiral followed the French, but his captains, with the exception of the officer commanding the Ruby, Captain George Walton, took every opportunity to fall behind. On the fifth day of the pursuit, and the sixth since he had got touch of the enemy, Benbow had his ships together, and renewed the action. Again he was shamefully ill supported. A cannon shot shattered his right leg. He had his cot brought up on deck, summoned his captains on board the flagship, and made a last appeal to their honour. Encouraged in all probability by their confidence that the wound would be mortal, and that they could tell the tale in their own way, the misbehaving captains insisted on returning to Jamaica. Even the officers who had done their duty joined in recommending retreat, from a belief that their comrades would desert them. The squadron went back to Jamaica, but though Benbow’s wound was mortal he lived long enough to do the Royal Navy one signal piece of service. He brought his disloyal officers to a court martial. The heart of the navy was still sound in spite of the vices on the surface, and the misconduct of these men had been too gross for pity. Sentences of death or dismissal were passed on all, and the offenders were sent home for execution. Kirkby, and Wade of the Greenwich, were shot on board the Bristol at Plymouth. Hudson of the Pendennis died before trial, else he would have shared their fate. Constable of the Windsor was dismissed the service, and imprisoned. Even the officers who had reluctantly joined in the recommendation to retreat were sentenced to dismissal, and were pardoned only by the intercession of the admiral. It was said, apparently by way of palliation for Kirkby and Wade, that they had behaved well before, and were less cowards than traitors. There is probably this amount of force in the pitiful excuse, that they were greedy men chiefly intent on pelf, who in their foolish cunning hoped to revenge themselves on their rough chief by ruining his chance of gaining glory. To end before a firing-party was their proper fate. It has been the good fortune of the navy that the nation has always been very serious where it was concerned, and that in the worst of times there has always been within its own ranks the capacity to apply the last indispensable sanction of the code of honour.


The condition of the great dim mass of seamen, whose fate so often depended on the bad commander, is not easy to realise. But we have every reason to believe that it was hard, even in comparison with that of other sailors. The word is used here of all the elements forming the crews of our ships, though the “sailormen” to use their own expression—that is to say those bred from boyhood to the sea—never formed a majority, and even rarely amounted to a third of the complements. The majority was always made up of soldiers and landsmen. This proportion of one-third sailors and two-thirds landsmen was enforced on the privateers. Taking the whole body of those who lived in the warships, and by the sea, they suffered from two standing grievances throughout the whole of the eighteenth century,—the amount of their pay, and the system of payment. Though the establishment of William III. doubled the pay of the officers, and the new establishment of 1700 did not make very material reductions, nothing was done for the sailors. They continued to receive 20s. a month for a month of twenty-eight days in the case of able seamen, and less for others. To the true sailors this was peculiarly hard. The first effect of a war was to send up the wages in merchant ships to 45s. and 50s. a month, while as much as £7 would be paid to the colliers for the voyage from the Tyne to London, though it might last only six or seven weeks. It was for this reason that the press was needed to man the navy. Landsmen, waisters, and marines were found with no great difficulty. Not being trained sailors they were not sought by shipowners. But the real sailors were. Therefore it was necessary to draw them to the navy by offers of bounties to make up the bad pay of the state, and when this temptation failed, as it invariably did, to attract a sufficient number, then to drive them in by the press.

Nor was the bad pay all, or even the worst. Their wretched 20s. or less a month were paid to the men on a system both wasteful to the state and cruel to its servants. At home the payment was made by a commissioner who went round with a staff of clerks, and held an inspection on each ship. Then he held another, named a recall, in the dockyards, to take in the men overlooked, or absent during [95]the first. The process was long, and it led to an absurd outlay on travelling expenses and clerks’ wages. Such as it was this system applied only to the ships at home. It was long before the crews abroad, including the officers, were paid till their return to England. If the men had remained always with the same ship the evil, though severe enough, would not have been so great. But they were shifted about from vessel to vessel, and had often to present “pay tickets” for four or five different ships. In the later seventeenth century, before it became usual to maintain large squadrons abroad for years, the wrong was not so acutely felt. But in the eighteenth it became a monstrous oppression. The discontent it caused, after leading to many minor mutinies, culminated in the great outbreak of 1797. If the sailors had not been unorganised and unrepresented in Parliament, and if it had been impossible to obtain them by force, a remedy must have been found earlier. A bad system has always indirect bad consequences, and one result of this was a sheer waste of public money. Funds voted for a given ship could not be paid till the proper claimants appeared. Meanwhile the money lay in the hands of the treasurer of the navy, who received the interest. If he left office he was still responsible for the unclosed accounts, and the money remained with him. It is even said that far into the eighteenth century the accounts of ships commissioned in the reign of Queen Anne had not been wound up. For the sailors themselves the system worked out in downright robbery. When they could get their pay tickets they were driven to sell them to speculators at enormous discounts. In order to protect them against this their tickets were kept in the hands of the captains—with the result that they might never reach the proper owner. It was a common accusation against bad commanders that they robbed their men in combination with the purser.

One practice of the old navy certainly lent itself to fraud. The captain was allowed four servants for each hundred of his ship’s company, and was accustomed to count this among the perquisites of his office. Indeed the total of their wages is sometimes spoken of as part of his pay. A captain was fully entitled to employ men shipped on these terms as servants, and he had a good claim to the patronage which the [96]power of selecting them gave him. He could for instance provide for a son, or the son of a friend, by bringing him to sea, rating him captain’s servant, and training him to become an officer. Many of the best of our chiefs, Nelson himself being one of them, served their apprenticeship or part of it in this very way, and where the captain was an honourable man who used his patronage on a high principle the state was the gainer. The history of our navy in the last century shows that a large proportion of our captains did use their privilege in this spirit. But here there is no question of money profit. That could only be got in two ways, of which the first was mean and the second fraudulent. A captain could take servants to sea, on the understanding that he was to draw their pay, and give them what part he chose of the ten pounds a year allowed for them by the state. He could also keep false musters, that is, return boys or men as present when they were not in the ship. This was an offence punishable by dismissal, but it was habitually committed. In its least criminal form it was done to allow a boy, who was still at school, to be borne on the books of a ship in order to shorten the time he would have to serve at sea, according to regulations before passing for lieutenant. A distinguished officer who died in our own time, Sir Provo Wallis, had had his name on the books of a ship for some years before he joined. At its worst it was the offence of keeping false musters, pure and simple. The names of imaginary persons or of lads, who never meant to go to sea, were entered on the roll of the ship’s company, and their wages drawn by the captain. In the old slang phrase they were known as “Captain’s Hogs” and it is said that as many as thirty or forty of them drew pay in a single ship. At ten pounds a head this made a material addition to the commander’s salary.

Bad pay, badly given, did not sum up the wrongs of the sailors. The constant infliction of the lash was, as far as we can see, not felt as more of a grievance by sailors than by schoolboys. But the bad food they did resent, and there can be no doubt that the rations supplied were frequently inferior, while the practice of putting six men on the allowance of four, in long voyages, caused the amount supplied to be insufficient. It may be that the men did not realise [97]how much the want of ventilation and the prevalence of dirt was against their interests. But they suffered from them none the less. It must be repeated that the administration did not sin from want of knowledge. There was a standing order to keep the ships properly aired. But a writer of the time, Henry Maydman in his Sea Politics, has explained why this regulation was not applied. Captains frequently took the steerage, the space of the main-deck in front of their cabins, for themselves, forcing the officers, who ought to have had it, further forward, so that the after-hatchway was shut to the men. Thus only the fore-hatchway was left to the crew, or for the purpose of establishing a draught. When the ship was at sea, and the ports closed, the air below grew foul, and turned food and drink bad. It is to this we have to look for the explanation of the frightful ravages of fevers during the cruises of the time. A few weeks at sea even in European waters commonly made the ships sickly. At the close of the century a long cruise at sea was relied on to make them healthy. In the interval a great internal revolution had been wrought in the navy, dating from about the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, and carried on partly by Captain Cook, partly by Dr. Gilbert Blane, who accompanied Rodney to the West Indies in 1782, but caused originally by the influence on the naval officers of the great revival of intelligent humanity in the country.



Authorities.—Beatson, Military Memoirs; Campbell’s Lives of the Admirals; Schomberg’s Naval Chronology; Burrows’ Life of Hawke.

From the signing of the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 till the beginning of the colonial war with Spain in 1739, the Royal Navy was used as an instrument in the hand of diplomacy to keep the peace, or as the police of the seas. Europe was disturbed in the North by the last stages of the struggle between Peter the Great of Russia and Charles XII. of Sweden, in the South by the foolish ambitions of Philip V., the first Bourbon king of Spain, and his second wife, Elizabeth Farnese. But the statesmen who controlled the policy of Western Europe during most of these years, Sir Robert Walpole in England and Cardinal Fleury in France, were unwearied in warding off another war. Once, in 1718, a strong fleet sent into the Mediterranean, to put a stop to one of the Italian ventures of Philip V., destroyed a much weaker and very ill-handled Spanish fleet off Cape Passaro, in Sicily. As a rule, the appearance of our ships was enough. Now and then an officer found some chance of distinction in service against the pirates, largely recruited among the privateers of the war, who swarmed in distant seas. The most signal example was the suppression of a noted adventurer of this class, named Roberts, by Sir Chaloner Ogle, on the West Coast of Africa in 1722. Meanwhile war on a vast scale was being prepared by two causes—on the Continent by the rivalries of France and Austria in Germany, and Spain and Austria in Italy, together with the ambition of the rising kingdom of Prussia and its great King Frederick; and on the sea by the collision of England with Spain and France [99]in America, and with France in India. Great Britain was drawn into the Continental War by the Hanoverian interests of the royal family and the desire to maintain the balance of power. Here the navy played an indispensable but secondary part. But in the colonial struggle it was the foremost combatant, and exercised a decisive influence.

A common interest drew France and Spain into alliance against us, but the causes of hostility were various. As regards Spain, they go back to the reign of Charles II. From the time of our settlement in Jamaica it had been our constant wish to secure the right of trading with the Spanish colonies, while firmly refusing the Spaniards all access to our own. The buccaneer wars, in so far as they were more than plundering raids conducted by miscellaneous scoundrels, were the attempts of private adventurers to carry out this policy. By the Peace of Utrecht we secured the right to share in the trade of Spanish America. Agents were allowed to establish themselves at Carthagena on the Eastern, and Panama on the Western side. We secured an asiento, or contract for the supply of negroes. We were also authorised to send one trading ship of 500 tons burden laden with manufactured goods to the Spanish Main in each year. This arrangement led, as it was bound to lead, to much smuggling. As Spain revived, under the more intelligent administration of the Bourbon dynasty, the abuse of English treaty rights was resented. The Spaniards said that the treaty ship was continually supplied with fresh goods by tenders, and complained that other smugglers haunted their coast, and were guilty of many excesses. To protect themselves, they insisted on searching English vessels found near their coast, and condemning those they considered guilty, and Spanish adventurers retaliated by piracy. Hence arose a long angry conflict of claims and counter-claims between England and Spain, complicated by political disputes in Europe, and only prevented from ripening into war by the resolute peace policy of Walpole. The Parliamentary Opposition, composed largely of disappointed office-seekers, and, as they afterwards proved, incapable administrators, took up the cause of the West India traders. There was much general denunciation of the atrocities of the Spaniards. The best known instance given was that [100]of a certain John Jenkins, master of a trading vessel called the Rebecca of Glasgow. Jenkins asserted that in 1730 his vessel had been boarded by a Spanish guarda costa, or revenue cutter, in the West Indies, and that the Spanish captain, who is habitually described as “the infamous Fandino,” had cut his ear off. His vessel was undoubtedly searched near Havana, but was allowed to proceed on her voyage, and there is no evidence for the story that his ear was cut off except his own word. As the country grew tired of the long predominance of Walpole, and was worked into a pugnacious mood by the Patriots, use was made of Jenkins’s case to appeal to popular sentiment. A theatrical scene was arranged before a Committee of the House of Commons, and the man was prompted to declare “that he had recommended his soul to god, and his cause to his country” when he was subject to the violence of Fandino. At last Walpole, seeing that the country was resolved on war, yielded, dishonestly, to what he believed to be a mistaken policy for the sake of keeping office. War with Spain was declared in July 1739.

The Colonial quarrel with France arose in another way—and one more honourable to us. The trade of her colonies was less worth striving for than the Spanish, and she was too strong to be hectored. The aggression came from her. In America her agents endeavoured to unite her possessions, in Canada and Louisiana, by annexing the valleys of the Ohio and the Mississippi, which were first explored by her brilliant and daring adventurers. The result would have been to confine the growing British colonies between the Alleghanies and the Atlantic. In India the French Company was bankrupt. It endeavoured to gain the means of expelling its prosperous English rival, by acquiring political power among the native princes. For a time the Colonial conflict with France was postponed by the great European war arising over the scramble for the heritage of the house of Austria on the death of Charles VI. It was our exceeding good fortune that, when the decisive struggle for trade colonies and supremacy at sea had to be fought out, the attention and the resources of France were mainly employed on an attempt to acquire a predominant position in Central Europe.

This was the happier for us because years were to pass [101]before we could afford to dispense with any of the help fortune gave us. Never was the Government of England less able than during the fag end of Walpole’s rule and the administration of the so-called Patriots. Never, save during the last ignoble days of Charles II., was the navy less fit to meet the calls of a great war. Its paper strength was indeed imposing. There were 124 ships of the line—of from 100 to 50 guns each, and 104 of lesser rates—that is, of 40 guns each or less. The total was 228, and it exceeded the united navies of France and Spain in everything except the quality of the individual ships. But it was suffering from the moral and intellectual diseases spoken of in the previous chapter. The long peace had afforded no opportunity of testing the quality of officers. In the earlier years its chiefs were worn-out and commonplace, or brutal and noisy. All those years did for us was to bring forward the men who were to lead gloriously in after times. From the point of view of the navy, the struggle waged under various names, the Spanish War, the War of the Austrian Succession, and the Seven Years’ War from 1739 to 1763 with an eight years’ truce in the middle, was one and the same war. Fortunately for us, if we were bad, our enemies were worse. Spain was languid, brainless, and could only fight on the defensive. France was overtaxed, distracted by a multiplicity of aims, drifting to bankruptcy, corrupt at heart and frivolous. Great Britain was a mighty force, healthy, though afflicted by bad habits, but capable of reform, and even at its worst advancing on sound lines. Therefore it could bear its administrative scum as a mighty river carries driftwood and rubbish on its surface. This floating trash may make a block and delay the current for a short space, but the moving water flows below, and accumulates in irresistible pressure till one day it sweeps the obstruction out of its path.

In describing this struggle only a brief space need be given to the early years, and in them what is best worth looking at is the promise of better times. Vernon in the West Indies and Mathews and Lestock in the Mediterranean are the dominant figures of the first period—and the types of all the navy had to succeed in shedding, or to perish. Beside them we see the gradual rise of Anson and Hawke, and with their predominance the triumph of the good over the bad.


The Spanish War, or War of Jenkins’s Ear as it came to be called when the rage of the country was over, began by attacks on the possessions of Spain in the New World. A rigid blockade of our enemy’s ports at home and invasion of his territory in Europe would have brought him to terms more effectually. But we had no sufficient army, and the navy, besides being hardly yet fit for prolonged blockade in stormy seas, much preferred colonial expeditions rich in prize and plunder. To the country nothing seemed more likely to be effectual than the seizure of Spanish colonies—or more lucrative. During the long peace, in 1726, ’27, a powerful fleet had been sent to blockade the port of Porto Bello for the purpose of stopping the sailing of the treasure-ships, and so depriving King Philip V. of the means of being mischievous in Europe. Admiral Hozier who commanded, his successor, and many thousands of officers and men died miserably of fever. The memory of this sacrifice to Walpole’s peace policy rankled, and an expedition to Porto Bello was sure to be popular. It was the port of lading for the treasure from the South Seas, and the headquarters of the guarda costas employed, as we said, to destroy our trade—but as the Spaniards put it, to stop our smuggling. An attack on it had been vehemently supported by the Patriots, and particularly by a sailor who was very conspicuous among them.

Edward Vernon had been a captain in the navy since 1706 and was the son of a Secretary of State. He owed his rapid rise to family influence, and no conspicuous service is recorded of him. During the peace he had been for several years member for Ipswich, and had been among the loudest-mouthed of those who first assailed the “profligate” administration of Sir R. Walpole, and then imitated him in everything except his love of peace and his admirable finance. The navy now and then produces a person who “has the gift of the gab ‘although’ he was bred to the sea,” and is continually playing the British seaman to the gallery. Vernon was the example of the type in his generation. He was as brave as any man, but too proud of what he ought to have taken for granted. He was clever, but far too conscious of his cleverness. Withal he was arrogant, had no control over his temper, and was afflicted with an insatiable vanity. [103]Already he had boasted that he would take Porto Bello with six ships. When the war began, he was sent with nine vessels to keep his promise. Vernon left in July 1739, and reached Jamaica late in October. On the 20th November he sailed into Porto Bello with six ships, and took it almost without resistance. The fortifications were not complete, nor were all the guns mounted. The garrison was crippled by tropical fever and was seized by a panic. They ran from their guns under the fire of our ships, and the town was captured with less loss than has often accompanied the taking of a sloop. Vernon behaved with humanity when in possession of the place. This easy success threw the nation into a delirium of joy, and turned Vernon’s head completely. He became convinced that all fortifications could be taken by merely rushing at them. In the position of unchecked authority he held in his own squadron, surrounded by men who deferred to him in obedient silence even when they did not toady him, his arrogance and self-assertion swelled till they grew to the proportions of mania. Vernon made an idle demonstration off Carthagena on the 6th March 1740, but nothing else was done.

Meanwhile the country was preparing to follow up the first success. After changes of plan, hesitations, and much administrative confusion, it was finally decided to make a double attack on Spanish America. A small squadron under Anson was to go round Cape Horn and range the west coast of South America as far north as Panama, while a great expedition carrying a body of troops under command of Lord Cathcart was to sail to the West Indies, join Vernon, and other troops drawn from the British possessions in America, and then the whole was to fall on the Spaniards. The actual point of attack was left to the discretion of the chiefs. Anson’s justly famous voyage may be left aside for the present with the observation that as part of a combined operation it was a failure through the delays shown in dispatching the expeditions. According to the original plan, Lord Cathcart was to have reached the West Indies at the end of October 1740 under protection of six warships. But the Government heard that the Spaniards were sending out a fleet. France was also beginning to move for the purpose of supporting Spain. The Government delayed the expedition till a more powerful fleet [104]could be collected. It left England under the care of 25 warships commanded by Sir C. Ogle on 26th October, at which date it ought to have been on the field of operations. On the 19th December it reached Dominica, where Lord Cathcart died, and was succeeded by General Wentworth. It was not at Jamaica till the 7th January. Meanwhile the enemy had not been idle. The attention of France, still nominally at peace with us, was drawn off by the death of the emperor and the opening of the Austrian Succession. Spain was left to her own resources, which, however, proved greater and were better handled than we had expected. Don Rodrigo de Torres sailed on the 10th July, reached the West Indies unmolested by us, sent part of his ships to reinforce Carthagena under Don Blas de Leso, and then went on, still unmolested by us, to Havana. It may be added that he finally brought the Spanish trade home unseen, and even unsought by us.

The great English expedition reinforced by troops from the North American colonies, and by negroes to do the work of the trenches, left Jamaica by the 26th January 1741, and after some further hesitation was led against Carthagena. It reached its destination on the 4th March. The town stands at the north end of lagoons, and can only be entered at the western end by large ships at the Boca Chica, or Small Mouth. It was not accessible from the sea front because of the shoal water and the heavy surf. The Boca Chica was well fortified, and there were other outworks dotted along the lagoons. These had to be beaten down before the body of the place, which was further defended by a strong outwork called the San Lazaro and a double wall, could be reached. From the 9th to the 26th March we were fighting up along the lagoons with good success. Vernon accused the military men of sloth and incompetence, and afterwards repeated his charges in a scolding pamphlet full of provable misstatements of fact. At Carthagena he pestered his military colleagues in a tone which revolted the pride of General Wentworth. Still, by the end of March we were close to the town, and on the 1st April, a fatal date, Vernon dispatched a vessel to England with a report of victory. It was soon followed by another with authentic tidings of disaster. The wet season begins at Carthagena at the end of March, and the troops were already [105]very sickly. Their condition was aggravated by the fact that the admiral seized the only supply of good water for the fleet. At last Wentworth, who was plainly a weak man unfitted to contend with a bully, had the feebleness to allow himself to be badgered into making an attempt to storm the unbreached San Lazaro, and was repulsed with frightful loss. Vernon made no use of his ships against the town, though there was ample depth of water for them, as M. de Pointis had shown when he took the place in 1697.

It was now clear that Carthagena could not be taken without a regular siege, an operation at that season, and with our resources, impossible. A council of war was held in the cabin of the flagship. The soldiers when asked what they proposed to do answered that they must first learn what help they were to expect from the fleet. Vernon burst out in an explosion of abuse, and was firmly answered by Wentworth. Then he flung out of the cabin in a fit of shrewish rage, and remained during the rest of the council in the stern gallery, bawling occasional interruptions. There could be but one end to the debate. The expedition retired with shame, and the odd hits, and the loss of several thousand men.

Nor would there be any profit in going into the details of the war in the West Indies. Few conflicts have ever been more insipid. Operations similar in purpose to this at Carthagena but on a smaller scale were carried out by Vernon and Wentworth near St. Jago de Cuba in the autumn of 1741, and at Porto Bello in the spring of 1742. In 1743 a squadron under Sir Charles Knowles was beaten off with severe loss in attack on Puerto Cabello and La Guayra on the Main. Then the war died down to mere privateering for a time, to revive slightly towards the end. Knowles fought a moderately successful action with a Spanish force near Havana in September 1748. But he was disliked by some of his officers and accused of not doing enough, was tried by court martial, and reprimanded. A feud arose among his officers, who fought it out in duels. The West Indies in this war were destined to give us no glory, and very doubtful profit. The honour of the flag was deeply stained by Captain Cornelius Mitchell, who while in command of a superior English force showed mere cowardice in the presence of the French in August 1746. For [106]this he was only dismissed the service by a very weak court martial. Some good did, however, come to the navy and the country from this scandal. In 1749, after the conclusion of the war, it helped to persuade Parliament to revise the Naval Discipline Act of Charles II. The rest of the war in the West Indies deserves no further notice. The Spaniards avoided battle except on the one occasion named, and applied themselves to bringing home their trade, with fair success. The French were too overtaxed elsewhere to appear in force. We not being put on our mettle, drowsed on in sloth, quarrels, and scandals. On both sides the privateers were active. Throughout the course of the war we took from the Spaniards 1249 ships, and they from us 1360. Our prizes included several treasure-ships, and were the more valuable. To conclude this side of the subject, it may be added that after France joined in the war against us we took from her 2185 ships, and she from us 1878. The balance in our favour was therefore 196.

Here also may be put what remains to be said of Vernon. It is to the honour of a man of whom little good can be told, that if he was insolent to colleagues and harsh to his officers, he showed an intelligent humanity to his crews. He reduced the excessive allowance of rum given to men in the West Indies, and introduced the custom of diluting it with water. The mixture is said by tradition to have got its name of “grog” from his nickname of “Old Grog,” given him for his practice of wearing a grogram boat-cloak. This is the only kindly trait (for we cannot praise him for not behaving like a buccaneer at Porto Bello) in an unamiable character. Vernon had offered to resign after the failure at Carthagena, but was flattered into remaining by ministers who were unwilling to see him among them till his tar-barrel popularity had waned, as they no doubt began to see it would soon do. He did return at the close of 1742. In 1744 his name was passed over in a promotion of admirals, and he resented the slight in a letter of incredible insolence to the Board. Yet in April 1745 he was promoted Admiral of the White, and appointed to a home command during the Jacobite rising. On service he began a course of violent wrangling with the Admiralty, and finally threw up his post in a pet. Then he [107]appealed to the public in anonymous pamphlets with clap-trap titles, consisting largely of official letters which he had clearly no right to publish. When called to account for what was at the best a gross irregularity, he refused to acknowledge his responsibility, and was, by the king’s orders, struck off the list of admirals. He died on his estate at Nacton, in Suffolk, on the 30th October 1757, forgotten and obscure—an example of the worthlessness of mob popularity.

It is indeed a pleasure to turn from this story of loud talk and little performance to Anson’s immortal voyage. Not that it was without dark shades and disasters, not only because it ended in triumph, but because there was at the head of it a hero, and round him a band fit to follow a hero. Of Anson himself it may be said that in him English manhood gave itself a witness amid the vulgar crowd of Vernons, Knowleses, Mitchells, Mathews, and Lestocks. Stern but just, asking for no affection, but deserving it, and commanding absolute confidence, he was indeed “the flower and pattern of all bold mariners ... unchangeable of purpose, crafty of counsel, and swift of execution; in triumph most sober, in failure ... of endurance beyond mortal man.”

It had at first been intended to send two expeditions to the South Seas, one under Anson to Manila, and another under Captain Cornwall round the Horn. But the Government changed its mind. Anson alone sailed, and was directed not on Manila but on Panama. There was delay, as always at that time, and the squadron did not leave England till the 18th September 1740. It consisted of six ships:—

Guns. Men.
Centurion 60 400 George Anson, commodore.
Gloucester 50 300 Richard Norris.
Severn 50 300 Honourable Edward Legge.
Pearl 40 250 M. Mitchell.
Wager 28 160 Dandy Kidd.
Trial  8 100 Honourable G. Murray.

[108] There were two victuallers, transports to carry stores—the Anna and Industry. The squadron was fairly provided, but was hampered by a number of so-called soldiers who were in fact Chelsea pensioners, sent on board in disregard of Anson’s protest. All who could walk deserted. The others died before the ships entered the Pacific; among them it is said that there was a veteran who had fought at the Boyne for King William. On the 25th October the squadron was at Madeira, and it reached St. Catherine, in Southern Brazil, on the 21st November. Already the scurvy had broken out, and Anson stopped to restore the health of his crews till the 18th January 1741. From St. Catherine the squadron fought its way South through storms to Port St. Julian, famous in the voyages of Magellan and of Drake. From thence it went on to the Pacific by the Straits of Le Maire and the Horn. It was a less dangerous route than the Straits of Magellan, but the incessant tempest made it perilous. Through one unbroken fury of wind and wave the squadron struggled on to the Pacific, but all did not reach it. The navigation of the time was rude, there were no chronometers, no means of finding the longitude. Two of the ships of the squadron, the Severn and the Pearl, came up on the wrong side of South America, and returned to England. Of the others the Wager rounded the Horn, but was wrecked in the Golfo de Peñas. Anson did not reach Juan Fernandez, the island of Robinson Crusoe, or at least of his original Alexander Selkirk, till 10th June, with his crew reduced to a mere handful by scurvy. The Trial, the Gloucester, and the Anna came in one after the other. The last was broken up, and her crew taken into the other vessels. It was September before the crews were sufficiently revived for service. During the last months of 1741 and the first of 1742, Anson remained on the coast taking prizes and capturing Paita. The Trial was condemned. His squadron was too weak to effect anything against Panama, and he missed the heavily laden ship, which came yearly from the Philippines to Acapulco, in Mexico. On the 28th April he left the American coast and stretched across the Pacific. Storms and scurvy raged round him again, and the Gloucester had to be sacrificed. The Centurion now alone remained. With her, Anson reached Canton, 21st November 1742, where [109]he refitted. Then he took the sea once more to look for the Manila treasure-ship. On the 20th June 1743 he met and captured the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, a prize of immense value, off Cape Espiritu Santo, in the Philippines. As a feat of war the achievement was naught, for the Spaniard had most of his guns dismounted, and fought at hopeless disadvantage. Anson’s greatness comes from this—that he conquered so much to be there at all. He returned with his prize to Canton, sailed for home on the 15th October 1743, and reached Spithead on the 15th June 1744.

The naval operations carried out against Spain in Europe were in themselves insignificant, and are only worth noticing because they led to war with France. The actual declaration of war was not made till 1744, by France on the 20th March, by England on the 31st, but it was a pure formality. Conflicts had already taken place on the sea between the ships of the two nations; the battle of Dettingen, in which English troops took part as allies of Maria Teresa, had been fought, and an attempt had been made to cover an invasion of England in the interests of the Jacobites. France was openly giving moral and material support to Spain before actually joining her. While the great expedition to the West Indies was preparing, Sir John Balchen was dispatched to the Spanish coast with a small squadron. It was characteristic of our half-hearted way of conducting the war that he was ordered out only to capture the treasure-ships. They, however, were warned in time, and so came safe home to Santander. Balchen was in some danger of falling in with a much superior force sent out by the Spaniards to look for him, and returned having effected nothing. Meanwhile Haddock was watching Cadiz, not so vigilantly, however, but that a Spanish squadron got away unimpeached by us, and reached Ferrol. The Spanish Government collected troops on the east coast as if to threaten Minorca, and on the north as if in preparation for an invasion of England, to be supported, it was hoped, by help from the Jacobites. The apparent danger of Minorca distracted Haddock, who was even short-handed till reinforced by a squadron under Lestock. At home a powerful force was collected under Sir John Norris to repel the threatened invasion. He sailed twice to watch Ferrol, [110]but was driven back by storms in July and August. When 1740 ended, we had certainly done nothing proportionate to our immense numerical superiority. The Spanish fleets lay quiet in port, or slipped away to the West Indies, and the Basque privateers were active even in the Channel. In 1741 there was no change. Sir John Norris was again at sea in the Channel and Bay of Biscay, but to little purpose. Haddock, with his fleet reinforced by Rear-Admiral Lestock, continued to watch Don José Navarro at Cadiz. In December the English fleet had become very foul, and was compelled to go into Gibraltar and clean. Navarro at once put to sea, and entered the Mediterranean. Meanwhile a French fleet under M. de Court had left Toulon, and advanced south along the coast of Spain. So soon as he knew that the Spaniards had passed him, Haddock started in pursuit, but only came up in time to see the French and Spanish fleets join, and to find himself in the presence of a very superior force. It was notorious that M. de Court would support Navarro if attacked, but since France was still endeavouring to make war and keep peace at one and the same time, he would not attack us. Haddock was allowed to go on to Minorca. The allies covered the passage of some Spanish troops to Italy, and then went into Toulon. Here they remained till February 1744. Haddock, old and worn-out, resigned his command to Lestock at the close of 1741. In May 1742 Admiral Mathews came out with a commission not only to command the fleet but to be Minister at the court of Sardinia. It would have been difficult to make a worse choice. He was stupid, boorish, illiterate, and of a violent temper, which earned him in Italy the nickname of “Il Furibondo.” Moreover, he had a long-standing quarrel with Lestock, and had asked that this officer might be recalled. The Ministry did not consent, and Mathews revenged himself by coarse insolence to his subordinate. A proud man would have sought his own recall; but Lestock was only sulky and malignant.

During 1742 some service was done. In June a squadron of Spanish galleys was burnt at St. Tropez by fireships under the command of Captain Callis, who earned the last gold collar and badge given for this kind of service. In August a detached squadron under Captain Martin forced the Bourbon [111]king of the Two Sicilies to withdraw the troops he had sent to serve against our ally the Queen of Hungary by threatening to bombard Naples. With these exceptions, 1742 and 1743 wore away, while Mathews was mostly at Turin, and his fleet lay at anchor without practice at sea. Some acts of violence on the coast of Italy are recorded against our captains. The British Minister at Florence, Sir Horace Mann, who looked upon them, with the sole exception of Captain Temple West, as “genteel porpoises,” asserts that when some of our men robbed a church of a cross and of the sacrament, Mathews hung the cross round the neck of his pet monkey, and stuck the consecrated wafer on the beast’s forehead. The tardy determination of France to take an active part on the sea gave a stimulus to the war in the early days of 1744.

In this year she acted with some vigour both in the Channel and in the Mediterranean. At the close of 1743 troops had been collected at Dunkirk for an invasion again, in the hope of causing a Jacobite rebellion. A fleet of twenty-four sail was armed at Brest, and put under the command of M. de Roquefeuil. He sailed at the end of January, was off the Eddystone on the 3rd February 1744, and had come as high as Dungeness by the 24th. The peril served for a moment to calm the feuds of the politicians, for the country was terribly frightened. English soldiers and foreign mercenaries were called in from abroad, and we applied to the Dutch for the contingent they were bound to supply by treaty. A fleet was collected under Sir John Norris in the Downs, and a battle seemed inevitable. But a succession of heavy gales from the east and north-east drove the French out of the Channel back to Brest, and the peril passed away.

While the wind and the inefficiency of the enemy were standing our friends in the Channel, a transaction was taking place in the Mediterranean which did us little honour and was the beginning of infinite bitterness. It was known by the end of 1743 that France was coming actively into the naval war. In January 1744 Mathews came down from Turin, where he had been acting as Minister, and resumed his functions of admiral. His fleet was at anchor in the roadstead of Hyères, between the mainland and the islands of Porquerolles, and [112]there it remained till M. de Court and Don José Navarro put to sea from Toulon on the 19th February. It consisted of twenty ships of the line when he rejoined it, but was raised by reinforcements to twenty-nine. The allies numbered twenty-eight, twelve of them being Spaniards. One of the Spanish ships, the Real Felipe, carried 116 guns, and her fellows were fine ships. The French were somewhat inferior, and the weight of metal as well as of numbers was in favour of Mathews, but the battle which followed was a disgrace alike to the discipline, the intelligence, and, with a few exceptions, even to the manhood of the navy.

When the enemy was known to be at sea, we struggled out from Hyères, foul from long lying at anchor, and clumsy from want of practice. The code of signals, too, was arbitrary and poor. The same signal was found both in the fighting and the sailing orders, and meant different things in each. During the 10th February and the night of the 10th-11th Mathews’ fleet struggled towards the enemy in light breezes and baffling currents. On the morning of the 11th it had got between the enemy and Toulon. The van under Admiral Rowley and the centre where Mathews was himself, were in a position to force a battle on the allies, who lay in a line to the south and west of them, heading to the west with the French in the van and centre, and the Spaniards in the rear, and therefore nearest us. But the English rear under Lestock had drifted apart in the night, and was five miles astern. In the light breezes it could not come up in time to be of use. Yet Admiral Mathews decided to give battle. We bore down at one in the afternoon, so that the English van came into action with the French centre, and the English centre with the Spanish ships behind M. de Court. If the breezes had been stronger, or the French more alert, their van might have doubled back, and have put our leading ships between two fires. They did not, and Admiral Rowley maintained a lively cannonade with M. de Court till the French admiral turned in the evening to help the Spaniards, whom he believed to be hard pressed. At that part of the line there had been not only failure but shame. Admiral Mathews brought the Spaniards to an action. He would have made it close had several of his captains not been “shy.” He himself in the Namur showed the courage [113]which is the redeeming quality of his type, and stood out of his line with the signal for the line still flying in order to come closer to the enemy. Captain Cornwall of the Marlborough fought the great Real Felipe nobly, being himself mortally wounded, and his ship cut to pieces. Captain Edward Hawke in the Berwick set a fine example, and compelled the Spanish Poder to strike. But with these exceptions nobody did brilliantly and several captains showed what, if it was not actual cowardice, was the kind of confusion and stupidity which keep a man well away from the enemy. These “cankers of a long peace” proved once more that a loud voice, a blustering manner, and a parade of brutality are no guarantees of courage. A notable feature of the battle was that it gives the last example of the old practice of using a fireship in action. One was sent down to burn the Real Felipe, but the result showed the limitations of this old-fashioned weapon. She was reduced to a sinking state by the well-directed fire of the Spaniard, who also sent out a boat to tow her clear. It was perhaps fortunate for us that she was shattered by an explosion, and went down, since the enemy might possibly have turned her against the Marlborough, then lying crippled where she had pushed in among their own ships. Night and the confusion of both sides ended the battle, but the allies had suffered some rough handling, and were chiefly intent on retreat. Mathews might well have renewed the action when he was at last joined by Lestock. He came, however, to the strange conclusion that he could not follow the enemy, because it was his duty to protect the coast of our allies in Italy—though it would surely have taxed a less torpid intellect than his to say what that coast was to be protected against, unless it were the very fleet he was refusing to pursue. The enemy was actually allowed to recover the Poder, which he abandoned, and to retire unmolested to Carthagena. The Poder was then burnt by us. Mathews returned to Mahon, where he solaced his feelings by putting Admiral Lestock under arrest.

The failure off Toulon, coming as it did after a long succession of repulses in the West Indies, and futilities in Europe where nothing effectual had been done to intercept the Spanish fleets, stirred the country to deep anger. The news came slowly, and it was not until Lestock had returned under [114]arrest, and Mathews had resigned and had come home, that their recriminations began to bring out the whole truth. Parliament took the matter up, and carried out a preliminary inquiry during April and March of 1745. Lestock and others were heard at the bar, and Mathews, who was a member, in his place. The debate left him, according to Horace Walpole, “in the light of a hot, brave, imperious, dull, confused fellow,” and it also left the House persuaded that a court martial must be held on the whole battle. On the 18th of April, the Commons with their Speaker waited on the king at St. James’s Palace with a petition that a “court martial may be held in the most speedy and solemn manner, to inquire into the conduct of Admiral Mathews, Vice-Admiral Lestock, Captains Burrish, Norris, Ambrose, Frogmore, and Dilk,” together with that of the lieutenants of the Dorsetshire, who were accused of misleading their captain, Burrish. The king granted the petition. The measure was somewhat irregular, and might be represented as trenching on the rights of the Admiralty,—it was so considered by Anson who was now on the Board,—but the case was exceptional, and it was by no means certain that the Admiralty would have acted if Parliament had not applied firm pressure. The action it took is one more reminder that, in the dullest times, the country has always been in earnest about its navy. It may, as Sir Charles Pasley has said, have played with the army, which it long regarded with jealous distrust and dislike, but where the navy was concerned it knew that its very existence was at stake. Therefore, though tolerant of much corruption in the naval, as in other branches of the administration, it was roused to wrath, and the resolve to have the whole truth out, by any failure on the sea.

A court martial, consisting of no less than twenty-four members, and presided over by Sir Chaloner Ogle, began to sit on the 11th September 1745. First it tried the four lieutenants of the Dorsetshire, whom their captain had accused in order to clear himself, and acquitted them. Then it tried Captain Burrish, and condemned him to be cashiered. Captain E. Williams of the Royal Oak was next tried and condemned, but with less severity on the ground that he was old and nearly blind. Captain John Ambrose of the Rupert, who had shown courage and zeal in single ship actions, was [115]yet condemned for misconduct at Toulon, and sentenced to be cashiered during the king’s pleasure. He was restored in rank, but never again employed, and died a superannuated rear-admiral. Captain Dilk of the Chichester shared his fate. Captain Frogmore of the Boyne died before the trial. Captain Norris of the Essex did not dare to face a court martial. He fled into Spain from Gibraltar, and was never heard of more. Five supplementary trials were held on Captains Pelt, Sclater, Temple West, Cooper, and Lloyd. The last three named were sentenced to be cashiered, but the finding was generally considered unjust, and all three were restored. The sentence of the court in this case is worth noting. Temple West and his colleagues had been stationed in the van with Admiral Rowley, and had taken steps to prevent the French ships, which stretched ahead of our line, from doubling back and putting us between two fires. It is doubtful whether the enemy had any such design, though his movements seemed to show that he had, and the counter-measures of these captains were correct. But they had acted without the express orders of their superior. They were therefore to be punished, not for doing what was wrong, but for doing what was right without orders. Observe that the punishment inflicted on them for what at the worst was a pardonable, even an honourable error of judgment, was identical with the penalty imposed on Captain Burrish, who showed the white feather. We have to come to the conclusion that, according to the principles of a court martial at that time, it was better that an English fleet should be defeated than that an officer should disregard an order no longer applicable to the circumstances, or act with independent intelligence. If this rule had continued to prevail, Nelson would have been cashiered for his bold move at St. Vincent.

That some such rule did prevail in their dim minds is indeed obvious from the result of the two great trials which followed on these small ones. Vice-Admiral Lestock was tried in May 1746, and honourably acquitted. The charges against him were, in substance, that on the night before the battle, when the signal to form the line was flying, the admiral signalled the fleet to lie to for the night. At that moment Admiral Lestock’s squadron was separated from the main [116]body of the fleet. On any intelligent interpretation of the orders it is clear that Lestock should first have joined the other ships, and should then have lain to with them. He preferred to lie to at once, and drifted still farther apart in the night. Next day he was five or six miles astern. He pleaded that he could not come up, and that as the signal for the line was flying he was bound to remain in a line even although that kept him out of the action. One thing is abundantly clear from his defence, and it is that whenever he saw a conflict of orders Lestock habitually preferred that one of the two which kept him away from his admiral, and well out of reach of the enemy. In after times Rodney, who served in this fleet before the battle, and who knew the men, recorded on the margin of Clerk’s Naval Tactics his firm conviction that Lestock had betrayed his admiral. Rodney was headlong in his judgments, but his is the voice of one seaman of that time judging another, and shows what charges were not thought incredible. Certain it is that Lestock behaved like a man who was very glad of any excuse not to help a superior whom he hated. Yet he was honourably acquitted.

There now remained nothing to be done but to try Admiral Mathews. He appeared before a court martial in June 1746—and was sentenced to be cashiered. That he was a stupid man, and was equally unfit to be a minister plenipotentiary or an admiral, is true. In giving up the pursuit of the allies, and so losing his chance to renew the battle, he showed extreme dulness and even want of spirit. But in the action he had fought manfully, and if his example had been well followed the Spanish squadron would in all probability have been cut to pieces. His great sin in the opinion of the court was that he engaged in such a way as to make the maintenance of the line impossible while the signal to preserve it was flying. Again we have to arrive at the conclusion that, from the point of view of the court martial, it was better that the enemy should not be brought to action than that the line should be disordered. Such a result could only have been reached by men who had never spent an hour in thinking out the methods of fighting a battle to the best purpose, but had simply accepted the sixteenth article of the Fighting Orders with the docility of [117]pedants. The consequence of their finding was to rivet the tyranny of a pedantic rule so firmly that it required forty years of war, and an extraordinary combination of happy circumstances at the end of them, to free the navy from its bonds.

In the course of these trials an incident took place which is of interest, because it settled the question of the subordination of the military to the civil courts. The President of the court martial formed to try Admiral Mathews was Perry Mayne, Rear-Admiral of the Blue. It happened that Admiral Mayne had sat on a court martial in the West Indies to try a lieutenant of marines named Frye, and had sentenced him to dismissal and imprisonment. Lieutenant Frye took proceedings against the members of the court in England for acting beyond their powers and for imprisoning him illegally. He gained his case, and £800 damages. In the course of these proceedings a writ was issued by Sir John Willes, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, against Perry Mayne and Captain Rentoul, another of Mathews’ judges, who also had sat on the court martial. The other members of the court were extremely angry at this interference with their President, and recorded a violent protest against the action of Sir John Willes, in which they were encouraged not only by the king, who was a German prince, and very ignorant of English ways to the end of his life, but by the Lords of the Admiralty and Corbet the Secretary, who ought to have known better. Sir John Willes at once asserted his authority by attaching all the members of the court for contempt. They were compelled to present a very humble and public apology.

While the failures of the chiefs who had risen during the long peace and their quarrels were filling the eyes and ears of the world, a great work was beginning to be done for the Royal Navy, quietly and within the walls of the Admiralty. It dated from December 1744, when Anson was appointed as a member of the new Board, with the Duke of Bedford as head. The duke was an indolent, great noble, who served the state because public life was proper to a man of his rank. But he was honest and sincerely patriotic. Though too much accustomed to a splendid and pleasure-seeking life to be a hard worker himself, he supported Anson steadily. Other [118]politicians, and notably the Duke of Newcastle, were too incapable, and too completely devoted to jobbery, to give any active help, but self-interest made them understand that something must be done for the navy. The country would not tolerate a repetition of the miscarriages of the early years of the war, and efforts must be made to bring about an improvement, if the eminent persons engaged in the parliamentary, and court, scuffling of kites and crows, were to be safe in their lives and estates. A good method of securing this desirable end was to obtain the services of a competent workman, and to let him labour unhampered. No better help could have been found than Anson’s. The great seaman’s connection with the administrative work of the navy began in 1744, and continued with brief interruptions till his death in 1762. Until 1751 he served as a subordinate under Bedford and Bedford’s successor, the Earl of Sandwich, who both trusted him. After that date he was himself First Lord, almost continually. Anson was not fitted to shine in the society of London. He could not shake off the silent retiring habits formed during long years of cruising in solitary command at a time when the chief was accustomed to keep all subordinates at an awful distance. He was proud and shy, a little hard too, and inclined to be grasping, as strenuous ambitious men commonly are. It is therefore not surprising that he excited a good deal of dislike, and laid himself open to the attacks of writers so different, and so well able to make their voices heard, as Horace Walpole and Smollett. We, whose ambitions he has not disappointed, and whose advances he did not snub, can judge him by another standard. We can remember that if he took care of his own fortunes, he also worked hard to improve the quality of our shipbuilding, and, what was even more important, to improve the quality of the senior ranks of the navy, while he did a great deal to promote inquiry into, and reform of, the corruptions of the dockyards.

Some years had to pass before the new spirit, hampered as it necessarily was by inherited evils, could produce much effect. A glance at the operations of 1744 will show from what a low level of energy the naval administration had to be raised. Though the retreat of M. de Roquefeuil before Sir John Norris and the February gales had shown the weakness [119]of our enemy, we yet called upon the Dutch to send the twenty ships they were bound to supply by treaty. These vessels were duly sent. Nothing effectual was done with the large force now collected. In April and May Sir Charles Hardy with the Grand Fleet escorted the Mediterranean trade as far south as Lisbon. The French, after the failure of Roquefeuil’s cruise, had reverted to the plundering warfare of the former war. Fourteen vessels were sent out in twos and threes with orders to join at sea and attack our commerce, under the command of M. de Rochambeau. Admiral Hardy protected the trade against his attacks till it was safe in the Portuguese ports, and then returned home. The return voyage was marked by an incident which gives no high opinion either of the discipline of the fleet or of its intelligence. On the 8th May a sail was seen to the northward, and Captain Watson of the Northumberland, 74, was ordered to chase, but not to lose sight of the fleet. He did lose sight. A mist came on, but a gun was heard by the officers on deck, Captain Watson himself being in his cabin, and was understood to be a signal of recall. The captain came up, but continued to hold on, although a second signal was reported by the midshipman on the forecastle. In the afternoon the mist lifted, and the Northumberland was found to be close to two large French warships, the Content, 60, and the Mars, 68, which had a frigate, the Venus, 26, with them. At this time the Northumberland was not cleared for action, nor indeed was she ever in proper order throughout the fight. The master, James Dixon, implored the captain to get his ship into better condition, but no notice was taken. A midshipman named Best swore at the court martial that he heard the master say to the chaplain that it was sad Captain Watson should take the ship into action in the condition he was in. When asked what he understood by this, he answered that he supposed the master to mean that captain “was in liquor.” The evidence was not tested, though both the master and chaplain were present. Captain Watson’s actions were certainly not those of a sober man. He bore down on the two Frenchmen, passing the Content, which was nearest and engaging the Mars, whereby he enabled both to fall on him at once. The Northumberland was cut to pieces. Captain Watson received [120]first one wound and then a second. He staggered to the accommodation ladder, and stood holding to the railing and bleeding to death. The master, it was sworn, came on the quarter-deck “with his hands in his breeches and his hat on, seemingly in a surly mood.” He declared that there were no men to fight the ship, and indeed the crew were running from the guns, while all the marines on the poop who were not shot had escaped below. In these conditions the flag was hauled down. The master gave the command after appealing to the captain to surrender, in order to save the men from being killed “like cows.” The first lieutenant, Craven, made a motion to hoist it up again, and even spoke of blowing the ship up rather than surrender her to the enemy. But his heroism did not go beyond words, and indeed the Northumberland was in no condition to fight further. Yet he was the superior officer, and, if he had wished to repeat the heroism of Sir Richard Grenville, had all the necessary authority. The court martial acquitted the lieutenant honourably, but sentenced the master to imprisonment for life in the Marshalsea. It would have sentenced him to death, but took the more merciful course in consideration of the good advice he gave the captain, which, if it had been followed, would have prevented the loss of the ship.

Here, by way of illustration, may be taken the case of another vessel, lost in the following year. This was the Anglesea, 40, commanded by Captain Elton. She was cruising on the south coast of Ireland, and fell in, off the Old Head of Kinsale, with the Apollo, a French privateer of 56 guns. Captain Elton rushed into action with all the folly of Captain Watson. His decks were not cleared, nor his men properly at quarters. The gunner could not as much as get the key of the powder magazine till the last moment. So ill did Captain Elton handle his ship that he allowed the Frenchman, who was to windward, to cross his stern, rake him, and range up on the lee side. As the Anglesea was one of the crank ships then common in our navy, she heeled over so much that the water ran in at her ports. Thus she lay, with her upper deck exposed to the small-arm fire of the Frenchman, her hull and rigging at the mercy of a heavier broadside than her own. In twenty minutes she was a beaten ship. [121]Captain Elton fell, shot through the body. Two of his men took him down to the surgeon, but on reaching the main-deck from the quarter-deck found he was dead, and so left him. The ship was surrendered by Lieutenant Baker Philipps. The court martial found that the chief cause of the loss of the vessel was the negligent and unofficerlike conduct of Captain Elton. Yet it sentenced Philipps to be shot, though with a recommendation to mercy in which all joined except the President. Baker Philipps was shot. Admiral Vernon afterwards quoted this as a proof that naval courts martial did their duty. The shocking contrast between the cruel severity shown to this young officer and the scandalously light sentences passed on greater offenders, had probably not a little to do with making Parliament see that the naval court martial had to be taken in hand.

Sir Charles Hardy’s own work was half done. He returned home, leaving M. de Rochambeau at sea. The Frenchman blockaded the merchant ships in Lisbon. Among them were vessels on their way out with stores for the garrisons and ships in the Mediterranean. The necessity for action was pressing, and a fleet was sent out. It is a proof of the little confidence felt in the senior officers of the day that the work was entrusted to Sir John Balchen, a veteran of the wars of King William and Queen Anne, who had fought some forty years before as captain against Duguay-Trouin with more courage than success, and had lately been appointed Governor of Greenwich Hospital as a reward for long service. In spite of his great age (he was seventy-five), and his claim to exemption, Balchen left his well-earned rest, and took command of the fleet. He drove off Rochambeau, saw the trade safe to Gibraltar, and returned home in September. On the 4th October the fleet was scattered by a great storm at the entry to the Channel. Balchen’s flagship, the Victory, disappeared during the night of the 4th-5th October with her crew of a thousand men. She was considered an ill-built vessel and may have capsized, but Guernsey tradition asserted that the sound of minute guns was heard from the Casketts through the gale, and it was guessed that the Victory had been driven on the rocks. In one way or the other the sea took its own.

During 1745 the fleets cruised unopposed. In the [122]Mediterranean Admiral Rowley, who had succeeded Mathews, blockaded the Spaniards at Carthagena. He was so superior that he was able to send ships to harass the French trade as far off as the West Indies, to watch Cadiz, and to act against those Italian states in alliance with France. In America a squadron sent from the Leeward islands under Commodore Warren, covered the expedition from New England, a partly patriotic and partly commercial speculation of the colonists, which took Louisbourg in Cape Breton from the French in April, May, and June. Our enemies were so incapable and so unenterprising that our fleet had little to do. During the latter part of the year the interest of the country was mainly turned on the Jacobite rising. The share of the navy in this passage of our history was naturally important, since it had to prevent the French from sending help to the Jacobites. But no serious move was made by the French fleet, and no opportunity for service other than patrolling the coast, and capturing single ships which endeavoured to slip in with money and stores for the Prince, presented itself. The navy did indeed contribute materially to make the rising less serious than it might have been. Prince Charles had sailed from Nantes with two vessels, the Doutelle, a small craft in which he himself sailed, and the Elizabeth, a 64-gun ship employed to carry the bulk of his arms. When on the 47th parallel and thirty-nine leagues west of the Lizard, they were met by the Lion, 58, commanded by Piercy Brett. He had been one of Anson’s lieutenants, and had been appointed by him captain of the Centurion at Canton. As the commodore was not authorised to have a captain under him the Admiralty refused to confirm the commission. Anson, in great anger, had refused to accept promotion to the rank of the rear-admiral. The ministerial change of December 1744 had brought him back, and Brett, who had been made captain in the interval, was allowed to date his seniority from his appointment at Canton. He now attacked the Elizabeth, and the two fought one of the fiercest of recorded single ship actions. They were so well matched that they beat one another to a standstill, but the substantial fruits of victory remained with the Lion, for the Elizabeth was compelled to put back. The Doutelle went on and reached Scotland.


In 1746 the success of the Colonial expedition against Louisbourg, encouraged the Government to fit out an imitation of it to attack Quebec. Lestock, who retained a very ill-deserved reputation for capacity, was appointed to command the ships, and Lieutenant-General St. Clair, the troops, consisting of some engineers and artillery with six regiments of foot. The preparations were delayed till the season was passed for a voyage across the Atlantic. It was therefore sent to the French coast on raiding expedition. Nothing need be recorded of it save that it did not sail till the 14th of September, that troops were landed cleverly enough to the west of Port Louis on the southern coast of Brittany, and then re-embarked when it was found that they had no means of taking the town of L’Orient, which lies a little behind Port Louis and further up the river Blavet. L’Orient was the dockyard of the French East India Company, and its destruction was much desired by us. After failing at L’Orient, the expedition went on to Quiberon Bay, where it again landed soldiers, and again found that there was nothing to be done. Finally the transports carried the soldiers to Ireland, and Lestock returned to Portsmouth.

In the following year, 1747, the new spirit at the Admiralty began to tell. The fleet was employed with vigour on well-selected services, and was rewarded with proportionate success. It was no longer used to convey insufficient military expeditions to besiege towns they had not the means of taking, or to invade countries they were not numerous enough to occupy. The French Government was stung by the fall of Louisbourg, and by the news from India, into making efforts to use its fleet to better purpose, and the increase of activity on both sides gave an energy to the naval war it had not as yet possessed. In spring it was known that two squadrons were to sail from France together and were to divide at sea—one, commanded by M. de la Jonquière, was then to steer for America, and the other, of which M. St. George was the chief, was to sail for India. They were composed of eight king’s ships, and of six of the vessels of the French East India Company. Transports and merchant vessels were to go under their protection. A squadron of sixteen ships of from 40 to 90 guns were formed to intercept them, and Anson took the [124]command while still retaining his seat on the Board. It is characteristic of the prevailing jobbery of the time that this force was not got together without the necessity of defeating an intrigue. Two of the vessels selected to serve under Anson were the Defiance, 60, Captain Grenville, and the Bristol, 50, of which William Montagu, commonly called Mad Montagu, a brother of Lord Sandwich, was captain. Neither of these officers was wanting in spirit. Grenville was killed in the action of the 3rd May, fighting most gallantly, and whatever could have been said against the sense of Mad Montagu, a noisy violent man of much deliberate eccentricity whose rôle it was to play the rattlepated Jack Tar, his courage was above dispute. But both would have preferred to cruise alone, and pick up prizes. Grenville belonged to the famous “cousinhood” of the name, and his cousin George Grenville, who was on the Board, attempted a little manœuvre on his behalf. An order to Anson not to keep the Defiance and Bristol with him for more than seven days was put into a letter which the Duke of Bedford was expected to sign without looking at it. The Duke did detect the trick, and refused to sign, declaring that “they should deserve to be hanged for it if it was done.”

Anson sailed for his station off Finisterre on the 9th April, sent his look-out sloops to watch Rochefort, and stretched his fleet out in a line abreast, each ship a mile from the other, in order to diminish the risk that the enemy would pass undiscovered. In the early morning of the 3rd May the Falcon sloop brought the news that she had seen the French the day before steering for the west. Anson called in all cruisers, collected his ships, and steered to cross the presumed route of the enemy. Between nine and ten the French squadron was seen to the S.W. It was at first not possible to estimate its strength, for warships and transports were all sailing together, and the one could not be distinguished from the other. Anson therefore kept his fleet in a body lest he should meet an equal enemy whom it would be rash to attack in disorder. As the space between the two fleets was reduced, it was seen that the French had divided. Nine vessels were formed in a line to meet our attack, while the others were making off to leeward. La Jonquière and St. George had, in fact, no more [125]than that number of vessels fit to meet line-of-battle ships. When the inferiority of the enemy’s force was seen, Anson ordered a general chase. The English captains went into action at their best speed, attacking the enemy on both sides. The French fought brilliantly, but the superiority of force against them was so overwhelming that they could do no more than sacrifice themselves bravely in order to give their charge time to escape, which many of the merchant ships did succeed in doing. Six of the French king’s ships and four of the Company’s were taken. Yet the French sold their defeat dear. Five hundred and twenty men were killed and wounded in our ships. The loss of the enemy was about seven hundred. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when the first of the English ships—Anson’s old ship the Centurion, now commanded by his former lieutenant, Denis—came up with the rear of the French ships as they were edging away to leeward, and hoping to delay our attack by showing a firm front till the night should come. The action was over at seven. Anson was made a peer for the victory, which filled the country with well-grounded delight. Our superiority in numbers and weight of ships was great, and as a battle the action of the 3rd May was not glorious, but here was a success won by foresight, good management, and activity against a gallant enemy. It was the first time that so much could be said since the war began in 1739, and it was the promise of greater things to come.

On the 21st-22nd June, some six weeks after Anson had ruined the French expeditions to America and India, Captain Thomas Fox, who was cruising with a small squadron on the 47th degree of North Latitude, met and scattered the valuable convoy coming home from San Domingo. Forty-eight prizes were taken by our ships, and the injury inflicted went beyond the material loss, for the disaster showed how little able the French were to protect their sea-borne commerce against the British Navy. They were too weak to keep the road open, in face of energetic direction given to our forces by the new Admiralty. Before the close of the year a third blow drove the lesson well home, and did a great deal to bring France to recognise the necessity for making peace. The outward bound trading ships to the French West Indies were [126]collected at Rochelle. A strong squadron of eight line-of-battle ships of the French Royal Navy, and of one 64-gun ship belonging to the Indian Company, was told off to protect them. The Chef d’escadre, or Rear-Admiral, Desherbiers de l’Etanduère, was in command, with his flag flying in the Tonnant, 80, a noble vessel. Indeed l’Etanduère’s squadron was a stronger one than La Jonquière’s, and the vessels composing it were superior in build and strength to our ships of the same nominal force. A powerful squadron was prepared to intercept this convoy. What was wanted in quality of ships we made up in number, and fourteen vessels were sent to overpower the French nine. The command was given to Rear-Admiral Edward Hawke, the captain of the Berwick, whose gallantry had stood out brilliantly against a background of blundering and pusillanimity in the battle of Toulon five years before.

Being fixed by the necessity they were under of reaching the West Indies soon after the end of the hurricane season in October, the enemy’s time of sailing could be calculated. Hawke left England on the 9th August for his cruising ground, the latitude of from 46° to 48° N. The enemy was sighted on the 14th October. The ensuing action was an almost exact reproduction of Anson’s engagement with La Jonquière. Hawke has had an affectionate biographer in our time, and the glory he won twelve years after this meeting with the convoy reflects back on all his life. Therefore he has naturally been credited with displaying great originality, but the truth is that he followed the pattern given him by Anson six months before, down to the details. The English ships approached in order, till they were near enough to estimate the enemy’s inferior numbers. Then they went ahead in general chase, attacking on both sides, and crushing their opponent by weight of numbers. As l’Etanduère’s squadron was stronger than La Jonquière’s, it made a harder fight. The French flagship, the Tonnant, proved too much for any of our vessels, and in company with the Intrépide, commanded by the Count of Vaudreuil, broke her way through and escaped. Captain Philip Saumarez in the Nottingham, 60, who pursued the two for a time, was killed. But six of the eight French were taken. They did not surrender till they [127]were thoroughly wrecked. As his own vessels were severely cut up, Hawke made his way home and reached port on the 31st October. Meanwhile the French merchant ships, protected by the Content and a frigate, had continued their voyage and had escaped for the time being. Hawke, however, took the precaution to send a sloop to the West Indies with the news, and many of the French vessels were captured by our cruisers when nearing their destination.

It will be observed that on both these occasions the French officers secured the escape of the vessels put under their protection. The substantial victory may therefore, in a sense, be said to have been theirs, since they did what they were sent out to do. The question then arises whether Anson and Hawke could not have done better, since they were sent out to interrupt the enemy’s commerce, and since they had a superiority of nearly two to one in fighting ships. They might have detached four sail to pursue the trading vessels, and still have left themselves a superiority over the French squadron of twelve to nine on the 3rd May, and of ten to eight on the 9th October. Yet the policy of making the destruction of the fighting force of our enemy as near as might be a certainty was the sound one, since, if his fleet was once driven off the sea, his convoys could not sail at all. Moreover, it is to be remembered that in 1747 the general bad quality of our ships might well lead our admirals to think that they could not afford to dispense with any superiority of numbers over the French.

With Hawke’s victory the naval war in Europe came to an end. In the East Indies, however, it continued. One of the few relieving features in the dulness of this war—or these wars, the Spanish and the French—is the extension of the activity of our fleet into the remote east. Hitherto when the Royal Navy had gone to the Indian Seas it had been on particular missions, but from 1744 it acted there continuously, and in squadrons, for so long as the countries were at war in Europe. Not that anything the navy did there was very flattering to our pride. Rather the contrary, indeed, since the dispensation by which it was arranged that while we were bad, our enemy should be even worse, was nowhere more conspicuously to our advantage. Yet it marks one step in the [128]growth of the navy that it is found taking over its duties on the other side of the world.

In 1744 a squadron of 4 ships, two of 60, one of 50, and one of 20 guns, was sent to the Eastern Seas under Commodore Curtis Barnett. Here at once there is occasion to note how well we were served by the folly of our opponent. A man was then at Paris who was admirably qualified to defeat any enterprise we might undertake against the French posts in India. This was Bertrand Mahé de la Bourdonnais, governor of the French islands of Bourbon and Mauritius. He had not been trained as a king’s officer, though the rank of Capitaine de Frégate was conferred upon him. He was a native of St. Malo, a merchant skipper and trader. But he had acquired all the knowledge needed to make a skilful naval commander, and had shown great faculty in his government. La Bourdonnais was convinced that England would attack the French settlements in the East, and he laid a scheme before the king’s ministers for forestalling us. His plan was accepted, and he was promised a squadron of five vessels. But La Bourdonnais, most happily for us, had excited the hostility of the French East Company by his self-assertive character, and his exposures of its corruptions, and his talent for scornful retort. The company opposed his scheme, and had influence enough to get it laid aside. It persuaded itself and the king’s ministers that it would be possible to maintain neutrality with the English East India Company. Neither thought fit to consider the probable action of the British Government, which might very well decline to be guided by the company. Being deprived of the force promised to him, La Bourdonnais was driven back on his own resources, and on those he could draw from the islands.

Commodore Barnett sailed from Spithead on the 5th May 1744, and after touching at Porto Praya in the Cape Verd islands, went on to the Indian Ocean. After rounding the Cape, he visited Madagascar, where fresh meat could always be got from the natives, and then stood over to the coast of Sumatra. He detached two of his vessels to take post in the Straits of Malacca, between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, and himself went through the Straits of Sunda, between Sumatra and Java, and took up his station in the Banca Straits, [129]between Sumatra and Borneo. He was thus on the trade route between China and the European possessions on the coast of Coromandel. On the 25th January 1745 three French China ships of great value sailed right into his hands. In these far seas he did not trouble to look for an Admiralty Court, but carried his prizes into Batavia, sold them to the Dutch for £92,000, and divided the proceeds at the capstan head. Then he came across to Madras.

The relations between the English and the French Company did, to some extent, justify those who held that a neutrality could be maintained if the traders only were considered. The English Company was flourishing, and asked nothing better than to be allowed to trade in peace. The French Company was not so well off, and therefore was much more lean, hungry, and disposed to adventure. But it was not strong on land, and at sea had so far no force. A tacit arrangement was made by which the French promised to abstain from attacking us by land, so long as Barnett did not assail them from the sea. The Company persuaded the commodore to accept this arrangement, and 1745 passed in insignificant movements. Barnett died in the spring of 1746 at Fort St. Davids.

The command now fell to the senior captain, Edward Peyton, and its fortunes in his hands have caused the death of Barnett to be esteemed a misfortune. The arrival of reinforcements from home and arming of a prize taken from the French had raised the number of the squadron to six, one of 60, three of 50, one of 40, and one of 20 guns. It had, therefore, a total of 270 guns, and all the vessels, with the exception perhaps of the French prize, were built for war. The quality of the squadron must be taken into account in estimating what followed. While our ships were idly parading the Bay of Bengal, La Bourdonnais was straining every nerve to fit out a squadron at the Île de France, now Mauritius. In the spring of 1746 he had scraped together, by all kinds of devices and makeshifts, eight vessels, one of them being a man-of-war mounting 70 guns, and the others converted merchant ships of from 26 to 36 guns. The total was 292, and most of the pieces were small. The vessels were indeed full of men, but a large proportion of them were Lascars and Caffres. La [130]Bourdonnais sailed on the 29th March, and after nearly suffering total shipwreck on Madagascar left it for the Coromandel coast in May, and arrived there in June. On the 25th of this month, before he had touched at any of the French settlements, he met the English squadron at sea between Fort St. Davids, at Cuddalore, and Negapatam, to the south of Pondicherry, the chief French port. Knowing his inferiority in artillery La Bourdonnais tried to come to close quarters and overpower the English by the number of his men. Peyton baffled this effort by keeping well to windward, and the encounter resolved itself into a distant cannonade, by which one of the French ships was crippled and very little harm was done to us. That little was enough to deprive Peyton of all desire to meet the French again. He held a council of war next morning, and by its advice sailed away to Trincomalee, leaving La Bourdonnais free to continue his voyage to Pondicherry. The decision was without excuse, for if Peyton had used his eyes at all during the cannonade of the day before, he must have learnt that he had to deal with ships of very inferior armament. But some of his own vessels were in no good condition, and he could think of nothing but of their defects, and of the excuse afforded him for a retreat.

La Bourdonnais anchored at Pondicherry on the 9th July, and began at once to prepare for attacks on our settlements. The history of his quarrels with Dupleix, the governor-general, does not concern the naval operations, since they did not prevent him for carrying out his attack on Madras. He was at sea again on the 4th August to look for Peyton, and met the English commander coming back from Ceylon. From the 8th to the 11th August the two squadrons were in sight of one another, but so convinced was Peyton of the inferiority of his squadron that he not only avoided action but sailed away to Bengal. La Bourdonnais now returned to Pondicherry, picked up soldiers, and sailed for Madras on the 15th August. The action of Peyton was again unpardonable, for even if he felt too weak to engage the French at sea, he could have contributed men and guns to the defence of Madras. The help his mere presence on the coast would have afforded is proved by the fact that when in the middle of the siege La Bourdonnais received a false report of the appearance of large [131]English ships, he was preparing to re-embark his men. But the French commander was not one of those who are to be drawn off by mere rumours. He waited for confirmation, and when it did not come, he pushed the siege, and the place surrendered on the 29th September. This event and its consequences, the breach of the capitulation made by La Bourdonnais and the seizure of the town by Dupleix, were the beginning of the great fight between the two companies. At the change of the monsoon in October, which suspended naval operations for sailing ships, La Bourdonnais returned to his own government in the islands, and appeared no more in those seas. He was compelled to return home, was accused of corruption by his opponents of the company, and died ruined and broken-hearted. Once more our best help came from our enemy.

In the following year, 1747, Peyton was superseded by Rear-Admiral Griffin, who is accused of treating his predecessor with great brutality. It is very possible, for Griffin was one of the bad officers who then infested our navy, insolently tyrannical to his subordinates, and shy before the enemy. His own conduct was no better than Peyton’s, for he allowed M. de Bouvet, with a much inferior squadron from Mauritius, to revictual the French garrison of Madras, and did nothing against him either coming or going.

Now, however, the East Indies began to profit by the revival of energy and intelligence at the Admiralty. A squadron of ten ships, of which six were of the line, was sent out at the end of 1747 under the command of Edward Boscawen, one of the new race of officers who were being brought forward by Anson and Bedford. Boscawen owed much to family influence, for he was a brother of the Viscount Falmouth, who once cowed a recalcitrant secretary of state by significantly saying, “Remember, sir, we are seven,” that being the number of pocket boroughs owned by the Boscawen family. But the admiral was a man of ability, who would have won promotion at any time when it was to be won by merit. He sailed in November, but did not reach Fort St. Davids, which since the loss of Madras had become the Company’s chief station on the Coromandel coast, till the 29th July 1748. The length of the voyage [132]was due partly to delay at the Cape to recruit the health of the crews and partly to an unsuccessful attempt to land at Mauritius. The force collected under Boscawen was the greatest seen as yet in eastern waters, for it consisted of ten English line-of-battle ships, and five smaller vessels, together with armed vessels belonging to our own Company and the Dutch. The French had nothing to oppose to this armament on the sea, and as the admiral had brought 1500 soldiers with him, it would seem that it ought to have been easy to sweep the French from the coast of Coromandel altogether. But the military forces were of inferior quality, consisting of independent companies raised for the service of the Company, and had as yet no military spirit. The scientific branches, and in particular the engineers who were of the first importance for siege work, were very poor. The siege of Pondicherry, undertaken in revenge for the capture of Madras, was badly managed, and turned out a complete failure. Boscawen, who directed the operations on shore, was no general, and was badly served by his engineers. A bombardment by the fleet took place on the 26th September, but it was little better than a farce, for the shallow water made it impossible for our ships to approach near enough for their fire to be effective. At a later period in the fighting in the Carnatic the Company’s soldiers found that they were being fired at with the cannon balls then wasted on Pondicherry. After lasting from the 8th August to the 30th September, after not a few panics among the raw soldiers of the army and the sailors landed to work the guns, the siege was raised with a loss of 1065 Europeans.

Peace had now been made in Europe, and Madras was restored in return for Louisbourg. The war indeed was only beginning between the Companies, but henceforward it was carried on ashore, and in the name of the native princes. Boscawen returned in the following year.



Authorities.—See Chapter IV.; Mr. J. Corbett, Seven Years’ War; Barrow, Anson and Howe.

It may appear that I have given undue prominence to the corruption and bad spirit of the navy in these years. But the insistence has been deliberate, for the great work which had to be done from 1744 onwards, for a generation, was to raise the standard of conduct expected from officers, not only by public opinion working from without, but by their own code of honour working within the ranks of the service. This would only be effected by bringing forward new men. If rules and regulations could have saved the navy from discredit and mismanagement, it had all it needed in the code of the Duke of York. The evil lay not in the laws but the men. Till they were better there was no real hope of reform. That one was wanted was beyond all question. In 1749 Sandwich, now First Lord, acting perhaps at the instigation, and certainly with the hearty approval, of Anson, made an Admiralty visitation of the dockyards. It was the first ever held by the Lords of the Admiralty or even by the administrative officers of the Navy Board. According to Sir John Barrow, who condensed the report in his life of Anson, they, i.e. the Lords of the Admiralty, “found the men generally idle, the officers ignorant, the stores ill-arranged, abuses of all kinds overlooked, the timber ill-assorted, that which was longest in store being undermost, the Standing Orders neglected, the ships in ordinary in a very dirty and bad condition, filled with women and children, and that the officers of the yard had not visited them, which it was their duty to do; that men were found borne and paid as officers [134]who had never done duty as such, for which their Lordships reprimanded the Navy Board through the comptroller; that the store-keepers’ accounts were many years in arrear, and, what was most extraordinary, that the Navy Board had never required them;—in short, gross negligence, irregularities, waste, and embezzlement were so palpable, that their Lordships ordered an advertisement to be set in the various parts of the yards, offering encouragement and protection to such as should discover any misdemeanours, committed either by the officers or workmen, particularly in employing workmen or labourers, on their private affairs, or in any other abuse whatever.”

The abuses noted, and for a time amended by the Commission of James I. and by James II., had sprung up again to their old height under the favour of negligence and self-seeking at headquarters. It was idle to hope to deal with these evils by sporadic visitations and encouragement to the common informer. What was wanted was constant watching, and it was long before this was supplied. Lord Sandwich’s visitation was not repeated, and it was not till 1770 that Sir Edward Hawke ordered one to be held every two years. Even this measure proved of little effect, and the first years of the nineteenth century were reached before the old element of slovenly corruption had become intolerable and Lord St. Vincent was able to begin a thorough reform.

The preliminary to cleaning out the dockyards was the bringing of the navy’s combatant branches up to the due level. It was a matter of life and death for England that this should be done. The great weakness of France at sea and the decadence of Spain, allowed us to escape disaster in the War of the Austrian Succession. The same conditions were repeated in the war which began in 1755. But if we had met the great American War in 1778 with the navy in the condition in which it was in 1739, and then had been called upon to face the revived naval power of France, the somewhat improved navy of Spain and the Dutch, irreparable disaster must have followed. We could not have endured that strain with Mathews, Lestock, Vernon, Knowles, Griffin, Peyton, Cornelius Mitchell, Watson, and Elton.

In 1746 the Government took steps to regulate promotion [135]to flag rank. It had hitherto been the custom to select the officers for the higher commands from any place in the list of captains, though they were naturally taken from towards the top. The captains passed over were left in the same rank and on their scanty half pay of ten or eight shillings a day. Though the state was undoubtedly entitled to take competent men where it could find them, it was felt that this practice of passing over old officers who might have to serve under juniors, or were left in poverty, inflicted a hardship. It also had the obvious drawback that it left the list of captains crowded with men who were beyond work. An Order in Council, issued on the 3rd June 1747, decided that when old officers in the rank of captain were passed over by the promotion of the younger men to flag rank, they were to “be appointed by commissions from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to be rear-admirals in general terms.” The effect of the order was this. The active list of admirals consisted of those who belonged to one of the squadrons—Red, White, or Blue. When then a captain was meant to serve at sea he was promoted Rear-Admiral of the Blue. The captains senior to him were named merely rear-admirals. This gave them no right to command. They were superannuated with a rear-admiral’s pension, in order that they might “retire with honour and have a competent subsistence in their old age.” It was the introduction of the modern system of allowing men to retire with a rank above that which they hold when their active service ends. The benefits of the order were limited to old officers who had served at sea since the beginning of the war with Spain in 1739, but the hardship inflicted on those not so qualified was confined to one generation. In future the old officer who was passed over because of his “great age and other infirmities” knew that he would “retire with honour.” The disadvantage of the system was that when the state wished to reach some capable officer well down on the list it had to make a great addition to what is now called the non-effective vote, that is to the pensioned men who are doing no work. But the advantages of putting a stop to an old grievance, of giving security and content to the officers, and of enabling the Admiralty to bring on younger men, were cheaply bought at this price.


Another piece of work taken in hand was the improvement of the quality of the ships. The inferiority of our vessels was seen so soon as they came to be compared with the Spanish and French. Inquiry showed that though schemes had been drawn up in 1706 and 1719, and attempts had been made to improve the ships later, they had all been habitually neglected. Our vessels had been built, not only on bad principles, but not on any regular scale, so that vessels of the same rate were of different sizes, and the fittings of one could not be used for another. Here as elsewhere there was waste. A new scheme was made in 1746 and modified in 1751 without bringing complete amendment.

The scandals of the navy had also shown the necessity for a revision of the laws regulating the discipline of the service. Hitherto the Navy Discipline Act had been that passed in the thirteenth year of Charles II. (1661). It conferred the right of holding courts martial, but under inconvenient limitations. The jurisdiction of the court was confined to offences committed on the high seas, and in the main rivers of His Majesty’s possessions below bridges. There was thus no power to punish offences committed ashore or in foreign countries. This was conferred in 1720, and some further amendments were made in 1745 and 1748. The worst defects of the old system remained and they were serious. The power to hold a court martial was given only to the commander-in-chief, that is the admiral or captain acting as commodore, with a separate command. If he died, or was compelled to come home by bad health, another commission had to be sent out to his successor. When Vernon came home from the West Indies, his successor, Sir Chaloner Ogle, was left for a whole year without power to hold a court martial, as the first vessel sent out with his commission was captured. Neither could the power be delegated by the commander-in-chief to any officer whom he detached. It was alleged in the course of the debates in Parliament in 1749 that, during the late war, a captain serving on the coast of Portugal had put his first lieutenant in irons. He went into Lisbon where there were several other warships, and the imprisoned officer applied for a court martial, but as the commander-in-chief was not present none could be held. [137]The vessel left for England with the first lieutenant still in irons. On her way a French man-of-war was met. The captain then gave such visible proofs of derangement of mind, that the other officers shut him in his cabin and released the first lieutenant who took command of the ship. When she reached home an inquiry was made, and it was found that the captain was insane.

In another respect there was room for amendment. The commander-in-chief was himself president of the court, which consisted of all the post-captains in sight when the court-martial flag was hoisted. The want of a limitation in the number made the tribunal often of a most unwieldy size. It was also obviously in the power of a commander-in-chief to pack a court, by sending away all the captains whom he could not trust to acquit or condemn “by order.” As he was the only authorised president he was there to give the order himself. When it is remembered that every admiral had then, and afterwards, a number of “followers,” officers who had served under him, and whom he always made interest to have with him, and who for their part looked to him to push their fortunes, when too we remember the brutal temper of such men as Mathews, Lestock, and Griffin, it will be seen that this was no imaginary danger, indeed bitter complaints were made of the partiality of the courts martial.

The new act of 1749—the 22nd George II.—corrected these defects. It provided that the right to hold courts martial should go with the command, thereby removing the risk of such a break as occurred in the case of Vernon and Ogle, and that it could be delegated to officers commanding detachments. Further, it took away the right to act as president from the commander-in-chief and gave it to the second in command. It limited the number of officers sitting in the court to not less than five, or more than thirteen. It also limited the court’s power of inflicting imprisonment for any offence to two years, and for contempt to a month. The cases of the master of the Northumberland and of Lieutenant Frye of the Marines had no doubt their share in bringing about this change.

The most famous of the alterations made in 1749 was that inserted in the 12th and 13th articles of the Articles of War [138]which were incorporated in the Act. The 12th article provides the punishment to be inflicted “on Every Person in the Fleet who through Cowardice, Negligence, or Disaffection, shall in Time of Action withdraw or hold back, or not come into the fight or Engagement, or shall not do his utmost to take or destroy every ship which it shall be his Duty to engage, and to assist and relieve all and every of his Majesty’s Ships or those of his Allies which it shall be his duty to assist and relieve.” The 13th Article deals with him who hangs back in chase or does not “relieve or assist a known Friend in View to the utmost of his Power.” Originally the court had a discretion, but by the terms of the new Act the only punishment a court martial could inflict was death. At a later period the severity of this penalty was considered excessive, and in 1779 the power to inflict a lesser penalty was restored to the court martial, but in 1749 Parliament had just heard from the mouth of Vernon that the savage punishment of poor young Baker Philipps was just, and it knew how austere the court had been with humble James Dixon, the master of the Northumberland. It also knew what bowels of compassion had been found for the captains of Toulon and for Lestock and Mitchell. If Parliament was resolved that what was law for obscure and friendless men should also be law for the chiefs of the navy, it may have been stern but it was not unjust. The Bill was introduced by ministers who had the advice of Anson, and we may fairly conclude that he did not disapprove of the change.

From 1748 to 1756 the country remained at peace, but it was of the kind compatible with continuous “military operations.” Both in the East Indies and on the continent of North America and among the islands of the West Indies, the British Government of that time had to deal with a more violent version of what we have seen happen in our day in the valleys of the Nile and the Congo. The main outlines of the struggle were given at the beginning of the last chapter. On the frontier of Nova Scotia the two states were in peculiar contact of irritation. The frontier had never been clearly marked, and the French strove to delimit it in their own favour by a characteristic mixture of pertinacious diplomatic pettifogging and violence. In the East the intrigues of [139]Dupleix with the native princes of the Carnatic aimed at ruining the commerce of the English company by cutting off the establishments on the coast of Coromandel from access to the interior. On the continent of America the seventy thousand or so French in Canada and Louisiana were incessantly endeavouring, not only to recover the greater part of Nova Scotia, but to bar the million and a half of English settlers from access to the valleys of the Ohio and the Mississippi. Resolute action on the part of the British Government would probably have averted war, but the Duke of Newcastle, who was the prevailing politician of the day, was intent on Parliamentary management. The king too was rendered nervous by fears for his hereditary dominions in Hanover. From sheer want of vigorous direction on our own part we drifted, through a succession of small conflicts, into open though unavowed war in 1755, and into formally declared war in 1756. The situation was that of 1739, with differences. Then we had begun with the Spaniards, and had only come into collision with the French later on. Spain, in this case, did not intervene till the very close, and in an hour of folly. Once again, too, France became entangled in a great European land war, and was unable to devote her whole attention to the sea. We engaged in the land war as allies of Frederick of Prussia and in defence of Hanover, but our main attention was devoted to the sea and to our colonies.

The first serious hostile movement made by the British Government was directed towards the East. The India Company had soon occasion to regret that it had parted so easily with Boscawen’s squadron. In 1753 it was calling on the Government for naval help, and in February 1755 a squadron was despatched under the command of Rear-Admiral Charles Watson. It was delayed at Kinsale by a storm, and two vessels were seriously damaged. They were replaced, and Watson reached Bombay in November with four sail of the line, and two small vessels. He brought a reinforcement of troops and Colonel Clive. His first piece of service was not against the French. The Royal Navy was now beginning to take permanent hold on the Eastern seas. No more pressing duty awaited it than to put a stop to piracy. This had always flourished on the western or Malabar coast of [140]India, and had never been effectually checked by the Portuguese, the Dutch, or by ourselves. By far the most formidable of these pirates belonged to a branch of the Mahrattas, which had gained possession of the island of Geriah, had become independent, and had transferred its native practice of robbery from the land to the sea. These pirate Mahrattas infested the coast in vessels called “grabs” and “gallivats”—the first a species of magnified lighter armed with guns, the second light rowing and sailing galleys. Sporadic attacks had been made on them by the company, and by occasional ships of the Royal Navy. Mathews had served against them. But hitherto nothing effectual had been done. In 1755 the presence of a well-appointed squadron and of a disposable body of troops encouraged the company’s agents at Bombay to make an effort to root out the pirates of Geriah. On the 7th of February 1756 Watson sailed from Bombay, carrying the soldiers under command of Clive with him, and in co-operation with a body of Mahratta troops supplied by one of the princes of that nation, who wished to reduce Angria, the chief of the pirate state, to obedience. They proved to be of little value, for they were chiefly intent on plunder, and had secretly more sympathy with their piratical kinsmen than with their allies. Angria showed little spirit. The vigour of Admiral Watson who battered down the fortifications of Geriah on the 12th February, and the firmness of Clive who took possession of the place, disappointed the Mahrattas. Our squadron and the troops divided £150,000 of prize money.

On the 30th April Watson and Clive went on from the coast of Malabar to that of Coromandel on the east. By the 20th June they reached Madras. The French Government, not being as yet ready for war, had recalled Dupleix and had brought a pause in the conflict of the companies. Watson’s next service was to carry Clive to Bengal to revenge the Black Hole of Calcutta, and to begin the conquest of India. But as this service became rapidly connected with the war against France, and as the operations in the eastern seas lay very much apart, I shall turn from them till they can be taken up again, and connected with the general movements of the world-wide conflict.


While Admiral Watson’s squadron was recruiting from its long voyage at Bombay, warlike operations, the forerunners of open war, were beginning on the Atlantic. The appeals of the colonists who found themselves unable to expel the French from the post they had established on the Ohio—Fort Duquesne on the site of what is now Pittsburg—had at last induced the British Government to take action. In December 1754 Commodore Keppel, a gentleman of the Albemarle family, who had sailed as midshipman with Anson and was destined to play a prominent part in coming years, left the Downs with a body of troops under command of Braddock. The expedition reached Hampton Roads by the 20th February 1755. Its disastrous end, in an ill-planned and worse-directed attack on Fort Duquesne in July of this year, is a well-known episode of our colonial history. The sending of Braddock stimulated the French Government to reinforce its garrisons in Canada. On the 3rd May of 1755 the Lieutenant-General Count de Macnémara sailed from Brest with nine sail of the line fully armed and seven frigates. He had under his protection eleven sail of the line fitted as transports and full of troops. These vessels were armed with 24 or 22 guns only, or as the French expression has it, en flûte. To be armed en flûte was to be armed like a flyboat with guns only on the upper deck. Macnémara saw his charge well out into the ocean, and then returned to Brest with six of the liners and three of the frigates. The other warships and the transports held on to Canada under the command of Dubois de Lamotte.

Meanwhile the news that the French were in motion stirred the British Government to counter action. Boscawen was ordered to sail for America with instructions to intercept the French by force. He left on the 27th April, with eleven sail of the line, and two small vessels. After he had gone the cabinet received further reports which gave them an exaggerated idea of the French strength. Admiral Holburne was ordered to follow Boscawen with six sail of the line, and a frigate. He left on the 11th May, and joined his chief on the banks of Newfoundland on the 20th June. But Boscawen had already failed to stop the French. When Dubois de Lamotte approached Newfoundland he divided his squadron and convoy into two. One division was steered to enter St. [142]Lawrence by the Straits of Belleisle, on the north of Newfoundland. The other took the commonly used route to the south between Cape Ray and Cape Breton. Boscawen had stationed himself off Cape Ray. On the 9th June the French were sighted, but the weather was foggy and covered them soon from view. Next day the fog lifted for a space, and three of the French ships were seen. They were the Alcide, 64, the Lys, armed en flûte with 22 guns, and the Dauphin Royal, another of the man-of-war transports. The Alcide was commanded by M. d’Hocquart who had already been twice prisoner of war to Boscawen. In 1744, when he was captain of the Medée, 26, he had been taken by the Dreadnought. This was Boscawen’s first ship, and from it he got his name of “Old Dreadnought” among the sailors. Again M. d’Hocquart had struck to Boscawen in Anson’s battle of 3rd May 1747. When the English officer commanded the Namur and he himself the Diamant, M. d’Hocquart’s ill fortune pursued him. The Alcide was overhauled, hailed by Howe in the Dunkirk, 60, and told to stop. The French captain asked whether it was peace or war, and was told that he had better prepare for war. D’Hocquart made all the defence he could, but the Dunkirk was reinforced by Boscawen’s ship, the Torbay, 74, and he became a prisoner for the third time. The Lys was taken by the Defiance, and the Fougueux. The Dauphin Royal escaped in the fog. No other prizes were taken, so that Dubois de Lamotte carried two fully armed liners, three frigates, and ten transports with their men and stores safe into the French American ports. Boscawen’s expedition was therefore, in the main, a failure. The jail fever was raging in his squadron. It had been manned, according to old custom, in haste on the approach of war, by the press, from the slums and the prisons. Boscawen took his ships to Halifax in the hope of restoring the health of his crews, but with the result that he infected the town. Meanwhile the French commanders, finding the coast clear, sailed for home on the 15th August and reached Brest on the 21st September. Boscawen returned in the autumn, reaching England in November.

While fighting had begun in America we were at home in a state of war which was no war. The Duke of Newcastle [143]was driven by dread of unpopularity to appear to do something. The country, thoroughly persuaded that the time had come when it must make the decisive fight for its trade and colonies, was burning for war. But continental complications, and above all his own vacillating timid character, made Newcastle shrink from vigorous action. There was indeed an immense bustle of preparation. Ships were ordered into commission by the score from the beginning of the year, and the work of putting the fleet on a war footing was accompanied by the inseparable offers of bounty and press-warrants. On the 23rd January 1755 there came out one proclamation offering a bounty of thirty shillings to every able seaman between twenty and fifty years of age who would volunteer, and twenty shillings to every ordinary seaman. On the 8th February another followed recalling all seamen serving abroad, and raising the bounties to £3 and £2, while the common informer was stimulated by rewards of £2 to whomsoever would tell where an able seaman was in hiding, and of £1, 10s. to the betrayer of an ordinary. A hot press went on in all the ports. The war was a merchants’ war, and the traders of London and the outports offered bounties in addition to those given by the state. By this combination of persuasion and force the fleet was manned after a fashion. Yet the mere fact that the competition for men sent up the wages of merchant seamen by leaps and bounds made the work of filling up the warships very difficult. It was necessary to have recourse to the prisoners in the jails, who were allowed to volunteer into the navy, or were sent there as punishment. Parliament suspended the provisions of the Navigation Laws, which limited the number of foreigners who could serve in a British ship to one-fourth. It even tempted them to serve under our flag by allowing them to obtain letters of naturalisation at the end of two years, instead of the usual limit of eight. By this act the Crown was empowered to suspend the manning clauses of the Navigation Laws whenever war should break out in future.

The dire need for men led to the adoption of two measures, one of private enterprise, which did good work in its time, one administrative of which we feel the benefit to this day. In 1756 was founded the Marine Society. This body was formed [144]to take charge of destitute boys, whom it fed, clothed, and sent into the navy, where they were trained as seamen. The spring of 1755 is a notable epoch in the history of the Royal Navy, for it saw the foundation of the present corps of Marines. The regiments raised hitherto had always been “disbanded” or “broken” at the end of the wars. They had never held a properly settled position, and there had been a constant tendency to rob the force of its best men by rating them as able seamen so soon as they had been long enough at sea to learn the business. At the end of the War of the Austrian Succession the Duke of Cumberland had recommended the formation of a permanent military corps to be placed entirely under the authority of the Admiralty. Nothing, however, was done till the 3rd April 1755, when the Lords Justices, who governed during the absence of the king in Hanover, issued a warrant authorising the formation of fifty companies of one hundred men each, which were to have their headquarters at Chatham, Portsmouth, and Plymouth. The value of the Marines (the title Royal was not granted till 1802) was rapidly demonstrated, and their numbers were increased. Thirty companies were added before the end of 1755. Twenty more were ordered to be raised in July 1756, and another thirty in March 1757. Two years later, on 3rd March 1759, one lieutenant, one corporal, one drummer, and twenty-three privates were added to every company. By the end of the war the total strength of the force was 18,000.

All this stress of preparation was presided over by mere infirmity of will. In July the Ministry, still guided by Newcastle, sent Sir Edward Hawke to sea with twenty-one sail of the line, but with no definite orders to begin hostilities. He was told to intercept a French squadron from the West Indies and to capture French merchant ships. The squadron put into Cadiz, got warning which enabled it to avoid the English fleet, and reached Brest safely. But 300 merchant ships manned by 8000 men were taken, and carried into our ports. This seizure of trading ships in a time of nominal peace gave the French Government an opportunity to denounce us to Europe as pirates. Many Englishmen thought it would have been more for our honour to make war openly, since we [145]were about making it at all. Yet the French had little right to complain after the example they had set in India and America. The vessels were not condemned as prize, and as they were largely loaded with fish their cargoes rotted, so that it was necessary to tow them out to sea and sink them. Hawke returned to port, ill pleased with the work he had been set to do, and was replaced in the Channel command by Admiral Byng. Then Byng was sent out to convince the country that something was being done. He took a French line-of-battle ship, the Esperance, but still war was not proclaimed. The French Government professed a wish to keep the peace. Yet at the end of 1755 and the beginning of 1756 it marched troops down to the Channel. As the Duke of Newcastle had succeeded for a time in infecting the nation with his own cowardice, we were thrown into an unutterably shameful panic by fear of invasion, though we had a powerful fleet in commission at home, and the French had not the means of fitting out a dozen ships at Brest. Under cover of this diversion the French invaded Minorca in April. Then at last the Government was brought to confess that war was war. Our proclamation appeared on the 17th May, and was answered by the French on the 9th of June.

The panic of the country in the early months of 1756 was to some extent justified. Yet its underlying belief, that if it could only find a man to rule it had the strength to assert its maritime and colonial supremacy, was well founded. In point of mere material force the navy was far superior to the French. At the beginning of 1756 we had, including the 50-gun ships which were still counted as fit to lie in a line of battle, 142 liners. The smaller vessels were 125, taking frigates and sloops together. When the bombs, fireships, and other craft such as hospital ships were included, the total was 320. The quality of our vessels, though still not all it ought to have been, had improved greatly under the new establishment of 1745. The discipline of the navy had bettered with the vessels. Some of the old leaven still remained, and in one respect much was left to be done. We had yet to learn how shameful it was that a fine squadron should be paralysed by disease as Boscawen’s had been. But we were on the right path. The intellect of the [146]navy was awake, and was beginning to apply itself to improving its armament and its discipline. There was as yet no revolt against the Fighting Orders.

Want of numbers was the least of the evils which weighed on our enemy. In 1754 the navy of France included only 60 line-of-battle ships. Of these, 8 were in need of thorough repair, and 4 were still in the stocks. During the brief administration of M. de Rouille efforts were made to reinforce this list. Fifteen new line-of-battle ships were launched by 1756. We may suppose that they included the vessels building in 1754. If the eight in need of repair were thoroughly overhauled by the same date, this would give France 71 line-of-battle ships. But the French did not include the 50-gun ships, of which they had 10, in the list, and they had therefore about 81 vessels to oppose to our 142. Of ships of 20 to 44 guns they had only some 40 to oppose to our 83. Their navy was therefore about one-half as numerous as ours. It must be remembered that at this time France still held Canada and important stations on the coast of Coromandel. She was under the same obligations as ourselves to scatter her forces all over the world, and that with the prospect of being everywhere outnumbered. With such a task to overcome, the French had need of the very highest efficiency in every branch of the naval service. But their navy had as much to seek in quality as in quantity. The corrupt and careless government of Louis XV. had allowed the storehouses to become nearly empty. During the years of peace no attempt had been made to give the officers practice. In 1756 it was calculated that of 914 officers 700 had nothing to do except mount guard for twenty-four hours in the dockyards eight or ten times a year. The old feud between the Pen and the Sword—that is, the civil and military branches of the navy—raged furiously. On the ships there was mutual hostility between the officers of the regular corps and the supplementary officers taken in on the outbreak of war, and known as officiers bleus. None of the corporations of the old French monarchy was more aristocratic or more jealous than the Corps de la marine. The so-called despotic King of France had far less power of choosing his officers than the constitutional King of Great Britain. M. de Rouille [147]endeavoured to revive the professional spirit of the officers, dulled by years of dawdling about the dockyards, by establishing the Académie de la marine, with the well-known writer on tactics, Bigot de Morogue, as its first head. But it was years before this could bear fruit, and France began the Seven Years’ War with all the conditions internal and external against her. How came it, then, that her navy was not mewed up in port at once? The answer is easy. Because the British Navy had its arms tied behind its back by the incapacity of the men who ruled, till Pitt freed it.

The first great operation of the war was conducted under a fatal combination of administrative stupidity in London and of the old leaven in the fleet. Reports that the French were preparing a powerful squadron at Toulon began to reach England before the end of 1755. The orders to prepare had been given in August, but in the destitution of the French dockyards eight months passed before it was ready. The boasted classes failed to produce men, and the French were driven to offers of bounty, and to attempts to recruit Italian sailors at Genoa. It was long before the urgent representations of our Consul at Genoa, and of General Blakeney at Minorca, could make the Ministry see that the island was in danger. Blakeney was a gallant old Anglo-Irishman born in 1672, who had fought against the Rapparees in 1690, and served under King William and Marlborough, had been at Carthagena with Vernon, and had defended Stirling Castle against the Jacobites in the ’45. He commanded the place, though bedridden with gout, in the absence of Lord Tyrawley the Governor, who according to the easy practice of the day drew his salary at home. It was not less characteristic of the time that many officers of this threatened garrison were absent on leave when the French invaded the island.

Richelieu landed with 14,000 men at Ciudadela on the 19th April. After many delays and much confusion, the Ministry had at last been brought to see that Minorca was in danger, and a squadron of ten ships had sailed to relieve it on the 6th April. The command of the squadron was given to an officer whose name has a tragic interest unique in the long list of British admirals. John Byng was the fourth son of that George Byng, Viscount Torrington, whose active [148]subordinate share in the Revolution of 1688, and command in the Mediterranean in 1718, have been already mentioned. The son was born in 1704, and had gone to sea at the age of thirteen. He served under his father at the battle of Cape Passaro, and became post-captain at the age of twenty-three. He had gained no distinction, nor had he sought any, on those remote unhealthy stations where the most arduous work of the navy was being done. His portrait is that of a handsome, refined, but plump and easy-going young man, and compares ill with his father’s. George Byng has the lean, eager face of one who though of gentle birth had to climb by his own efforts. John Byng has the air of one whose father was born before him, and who did not rise, but was carried up with no effort of his own by the fortune another had made. He had sat in Parliament, and had not escaped the corrupting influence of the factious, selfish, jobbing spirit of the political world of his generation.

Byng was selected to carry the reliefs to Minorca on the 11th March, but nearly a month passed before he sailed. Though we had a great fleet commissioned and commissioning, much difficulty was found in manning the ten ships assigned him for the service. The Admiralty refused to draft men from well-manned vessels on the ground that they were needed at home. Some part of the blame for this must be put on Anson and Boscawen, who were on the Board. The great responsibility lay on the mere politicians and borough-mongers whose folly was paralysing the strength of England, but it must be confessed that Anson in dealing with political chiefs and colleagues did not show the courage he had never failed to display in fighting the storm or the broadsides of the enemy. As Byng was to reinforce the garrison of Minorca, he carried with him both the officers who were at home on leave and Lord Robert Bertie’s regiment of foot. By a piece of blundering, for which Anson cannot be held blameless, the marines were landed to make room for the soldiers. If now they were landed in Minorca, the squadron, already ill manned, would have been dangerously weakened. As the French were known to have a fleet at sea, Byng was thus put at a serious disadvantage, and an angry sense of ill-treatment rankled in his mind, not unnaturally, but fatally, for it had a share in [149]causing him to adopt a line of conduct which brought discredit to his country and a shameful death to himself. It never occurred to him that if he beat the enemy’s fleet soundly he could safely land the soldiers who had taken the place of his marines.

His orders were dated the 1st April. He was told to sail to the Straits of Gibraltar. If on arriving there he heard that the French had sent vessels into the Atlantic bound for America, he was to detach part of his squadron under his second in command, Rear-Admiral Temple West, to follow them, and proceed with the remainder to Minorca. If he found that the island was being attacked, he was to render what help he could, and if not, then to blockade Toulon. There is a certain futility in these orders, for they take no notice of the contingency that even if Byng was able to beat off the French warships, or found none to fight, the relief he brought might not be sufficient to enable Blakeney to resist the troops already landed under Richelieu. But he would do much if he could cut the French off from Toulon, and however feeble the measures of ministers may have been, it was not the less his duty to do his utmost. Byng, unhappily for himself, and for us, drew the strange deduction, that since he was not supplied with the means of relieving the garrison altogether, he was justified in making a feeble use of his ships. Orders were also sent to General Fowke, who was in command at Gibraltar, to spare a part of his garrison for Minorca if he felt that he could part with them safely.

The voyage out to Gibraltar was tedious. It was not till the 2nd May that Byng reached the Rock, where he was joined by Commodore Edgcumbe with the Princess Louisa, 60, and the Fortune sloop, part of a small squadron which had been cruising in the neighbourhood of Minorca when it was invaded. The Deptford, 50, and the Portland, 50, joined shortly afterwards. At Gibraltar Byng also heard of the landing of the French, of their strength, and of the distressed position of the English garrison shut up in Fort St. Philip, at the mouth of Mahon Harbour. On the 4th May he sent off a dispatch which is of extreme importance as illustrating the state of mind he was in, and as explaining his conduct. In it he says:—


“If I had been so happy as to have arrived at Mahon before the French had landed, I flatter myself I would have been able to have prevented their setting foot on that island; but, as it has so unfortunately turned out, I am firmly of opinion, from the great force they have landed, and the quantity of provisions, stores and ammunition of all kinds they have brought with them, that the throwing men into the castle, will only enable it to hold out a little longer time, and add to the number that must fall into the enemy’s hands; for the garrison in time will be obliged to surrender, unless a sufficient number of men could be landed to dislodge the French or raise the siege.”

After thus declaring that all efforts must be useless, he promised to go on to Minorca to do what he could, and in case it should turn out to be nothing, then he would return to Gibraltar to cover that place. This letter, which was sent home overland, gives the measure of the man. It may be compared with the letter which Herbert had sent up to London on first sighting Tourville’s fleet off the Isle of Wight in 1690. Both men were plainly under the influence of a mischievous delight on contemplating the embarrassment which a national disaster would be likely to bring on the ministers who had sent them out with insufficient fleets. Herbert had the excuse that he was in the presence of a much superior force. Byng makes no mention of inability to fight the French fleet. He was prepared to retire without a battle if he could not get security that the French troops would also be driven off by the reinforcement he had brought, and this he had already declared to be impossible. In the same letter he speaks of the chance that the French would come on to Gibraltar when they had got all the vessels ready they possibly could. He neither contemplated the possibility of attempting to beat them in detail before they were all ready, nor the effect likely to be produced on Richelieu if his communications with France were cut. Yet a strong fort open to relief from the sea might have made a prolonged defence, and could have given time for further reinforcements from England. When they arrived, the total surrender of the French would be inevitable. It was natural that when this letter reached [151]England the Ministry concluded that Byng did not mean to exert himself to relieve Minorca, and that foreseeing a disaster, they took measures to turn popular rage against the admiral. They would have been more than human if they had not, and Byng was a foolish man indeed if he did not know that they were very basely human.

The squadron, now increased from ten to thirteen sail, left Gibraltar on the 8th May. General Fowke, with a weakness equal to Byng’s, declined to part with more than 250 men. There had been councils and confabulations of weak men, all ending in agreement that the enterprise was hopeless. So Byng reluctantly approached “the post of the foe.” On the 19th he was in sight of Minorca at the south-easterly point where St. Philip stands at the mouth of the long land-locked harbour of Mahon. The French fleet was not then in sight. The Phœnix frigate commanded by Captain Hervey, with the Chesterfield and Dolphin, were sent on ahead with the officers belonging to the garrison, and orders to communicate with General Blakeney. Before they could reach the harbour mouth the French fleet was sighted to the south-east, and Byng recalled the frigates. It was an unnecessary measure, due to excess of caution, for the frigates were not indispensable to the fighting power of the fleet, and the military officers they carried would have been of great value to the garrison.

The rest of the day passed in manœuvres, and without a battle. Byng’s squadron was outsailed, but he showed no zeal to force on an action, and confined himself to endeavouring to remain to windward. During the night the fleets parted, and at daybreak were not in sight of one another. They were from 30 to 40 miles off the island. It was hazy, but cleared up about ten, when the enemy was seen a long way off to the south-east. The wind was from the south-west. By midday the two fleets were approaching one another, both close hauled, the French on the port, the English on the starboard tack, in two lines forming an obtuse angle. About one we weathered the head of the French line, and Byng afterwards boasted of having gained the weather-gage. If he did it by fair sailing, his ships cannot have been so inferior in quality to the enemy as he [152]pleaded they were when he had to excuse himself. As the French habitually preferred to engage to leeward, which left their line of retreat open, it is probable that he attributed to his own skill what was the deliberate act of the enemy. About two o’clock the English had passed to windward, and to the south of La Galissonière, our last vessel being nearly abreast of his first. We were thirteen of the line, and the French twelve. Being now in the position to force on a battle, Byng brought his fleet round, all ships turning together, so that we headed in the same general direction as the French, and ordered the Deptford to leave the line so that we might be ship to ship with the enemy. It was a strange action in an admiral who complained bitterly of the inferiority of his fleet, but was doubtless due to mere pedantry. Byng, who was a martinet in the fopperies of his profession, had no idea of fighting a battle except by the orthodox pattern, van to van, centre to centre, rear to rear, and having one ship more than his opponent, did not know what to do with her. Here are the two fleets in the order in which they engaged:—

Defiance 60 Capt. Andrews.
Portland 50 Baird.
Lancaster 60 Edgcumbe.
Buckingham (flagship of Admiral West) 68 Everitt.
Captain 64 Catford.
Intrepid 64 Young.
Revenge 64 Cornwall.
Princess Louisa 60 Noel.
Trident 64 Durell.
Ramillies (flagship of of Byng) 90 Gardiner.
Culloden 74 Ward.
Kingston 60 Parry.
Lion 64 Capt. de Saint-Aignan.
Triton 64 Capt. de Mercier.
Redoutable (flagship of Commodore de Glandèvez) 74 Capt. de Vilarzel.
Orphée 64 Capt. de Raymondis.
Fier 50 Capt. d’Herville.
Guerrier 74 Capt. Villars de Labrosse.
Foudroyant (flagship of La Galissonière) 80 Capt. Froger de l’Eguille.
Téméraire 74 Capt. de Beaumont Lemaître.
Hippopotame 50 Capt. Rochemore.
Content 64 Capt. de Sabran Grammont.
Couronne (flagship of Commodore La Clue) 74 Capt. Gabanous.
Sage 64 Capt. Durevest.

[153] When the order to engage was given, the fleets were not parallel, but on lines converging to form an acute angle ahead of them. Thus the leading English ship was nearer the leading ship of the French than the rear was to their rear. So if each bore down on the Frenchman opposite to it at the time, the vessels in the van would come into action first, and would be exposed to a converging fire, while it would depend on the enemy’s decision to stay still and be attacked, whether the centre and rear of the English fleet ever got into action at all.

Admiral West came down on the Frenchmen briskly, and then hauled up with the heads of his ships in the same direction as theirs. Meanwhile the other English vessels were steering to come into action while carefully preserving their relative positions to the vessels in the van. In the French line vessels here and there stood out, and ran to leeward. Our men cheered, thinking they had forced the enemy to flee, but the movement was the result of design. As these vessels ran to leeward, those astern “let all draw” and shot ahead. Thus a movement in advance was given to the whole French line, and the distance which the English ships of the centre and rear had to cover before reaching their proper opponents was constantly increased. In any case, the French admiral would almost certainly have succeeded in filing past the leading English vessels, crippling their rigging, and then running down to form a new line to leeward. But he was helped by a piece of bungling in our squadron. The Intrepid, the sixth ship, lost her foretop-mast. As she was before the wind, this ought to have been no great disaster, but she was so badly steered that she came right round and lay across the path of the following ship—the Revenge. According to all rule, tradition, and honour, the Revenge ought to have passed between the crippled Intrepid and the enemy—that is to leeward. But she tried to pass to windward, could not do so, and then backed her topsail to stop her way and prevent a collision. The vessels behind did the same thing, and thus our fleet broke in two. The five ships ahead of the Intrepid followed the enemy with Admiral West, while the others remained behind. It was about this time that the flag-captain, [154]Gardiner, pointed out to Byng that if he stood out of his line he could bring the Frenchman then running past him to closer action. The admiral answered that Mathews had been broken for not taking his fleet down in a body, and that he would not incur the same fate. Rather than offend against the superstition of the line of battle, he would let the enemy get off unhurt. La Galissonière did get off with little damage, leaving us with three ships badly crippled in their rigging, and the whole fleet in scandalous disorder.

So ended the battle of the 20th May. It was first and foremost an example of what must happen so long as our navy continued to be bound by the stupid pattern set up in the Fighting Instructions for all actions against an enemy of equal, or approximately equal, force—so long, in fact, as we continued to engage to windward, ship to ship, leaving the enemy his line of retreat open, and depriving ourselves of the power to push the attack home, by making it a rule to adhere to the formation in which we began the fight. In these conditions decisive results were not to be achieved. But Byng did ill even according to this stupid model. He ought to have arranged his fleet parallel to the enemy before he bore down, and he ought not to have begun firing, as he did, when at such a distance that he could do no harm. Yet the lame and impotent conclusion of the battle and his own bungling might both have been forgiven, or even passed unnoticed, but for what followed. The fleet was satisfied that it had made the enemy run, and the nation would have been satisfied too, if there had been any effort to help Fort St. Philip in the days following the battle. There was none. For four days Byng loitered near the scene of the action, repairing the vessels crippled on the 20th. He said it was not easy to do, and indeed, from first to last, showed a marked disinclination to attempt anything that was not “easy.” Then a council of war came to the conclusion, which is always so welcome to weak men weakly led, that nothing more could be done. The fleet returned to “cover” Gibraltar, leaving Minorca to its fate. Before the complacent dispatch in which Byng announced his decision could reach home, the news of the failure had been given by La Galissonière’s boastful letter to his own king. It was published in Paris, and sent on from [155]thence. In truth the French admiral was very nervous, constantly expecting the reappearance of the English in superior force, and was only kept from retiring to Toulon by the incessant driving of Richelieu. The honour both of the defence and of the attack in this campaign belongs wholly to the soldiers. When the result of the meeting of the two fleets was known, there burst out a storm of rage of which the echoes can be heard to this day. It is not pleasant to hear a people howling for the life of a man, whether he be the great and terrible Strafford or poor, weak, self-satisfied John Byng. The manifestations, too, were vulgar. The mob hanged the admiral in effigy, the City of London sent deputations asking for his life, the Prime Minister gabbled promises that he should be punished. Meanwhile Byng had returned to Gibraltar on the 19th June. He found there a reinforcement of five line-of-battle ships under Commodore Brodrick, who had arrived on the 15th from England. Preparations were being made to return to Mahon when Hawke came into Gibraltar to take command and also to send Byng home for trial together with the witnesses. Fowke was also recalled. The admiral heard of his supersession with unaffected, or at any rate with remarkably well-simulated, indignation. He wrote a furious self-laudatory letter on the 4th July, all but claiming a statue for his exertions. On the 9th July he sailed a prisoner in the Antelope, and reached England on the 19th August.

He was first imprisoned at Greenwich, and then sent to Portsmouth for trial. In the sentimental reaction of coming years, it was said that he could not expect fair treatment in the prevailing rage of the nation, and that he was made a sacrifice by base-minded politicians. But nobody can read the minutes of the court martial without seeing that the admiral had a perfectly fair trial, and was condemned on his merits, while the politicians who had an interest in securing his condemnation had left office before the court martial began, and remained out till after his execution. Newcastle had been replaced by the first short administration of Pitt. The court martial began to sit on the 17th December 1756, and sentence was given on the 28th February 1757. The court found that the admiral had offended against the 12th [156]Article in that he had not done his utmost against the enemy. Therefore, though it acquitted him of cowardice or disaffection, it found him guilty of negligence, and condemned him to the only punishment it was authorised to inflict, which was death. Attempts were made to save his life. The House of Commons even passed a Bill to relieve the officers forming the court martial from the obligation to preserve secrecy as to what had passed in their private decision on the sentence. It was hoped that they might have something to say which would avail the prisoner, but when questioned by the House of Lords they could answer nothing to the purpose. The Upper House rejected the Bill, and the admiral was shot to death on the deck of the Monarque on the 14th March 1757. He died with dignity, and protesting to the last he had been made a victim.

In the changes of things and in the usual reaction by which Englishmen habitually atone for the fury of their rage, he came indeed to be thought of as a victim, yet the sentence was just. Coward, in the sense that he suffered from the pitiable cowardice which makes a man sick and giddy at the approach of personal danger, he was not. Neither was he disaffected, in the sense that he was scheming to upset the Government he served. As these were the forms of cowardice and disaffection contemplated by the Act, the court very properly acquitted him under these heads. But he was a coward in the intellectual sense. Having a dangerous piece of work to do, and one in which the very errors of the Government rendered it only the more incumbent on him to make all wants good by his own exertions, he thought chiefly of doing it at the least risk, and was resigned to failure. The excuses he made were pitiable. All through he insisted on the inferiority of his fleet. Yet he had thirteen ships to twelve. It is true that the French were better vessels, the Foudroyant with her 80 guns, for instance, being superior in real strength to the Ramillies with her 90. Yet the Foudroyant afterwards surrendered to a much smaller ship than the Ramillies. He harped on the lesser weight of his guns, and it is true that the 42-pounders carried on the lower deck of some French ships were heavier than any of ours. Yet he had 834 guns to the Frenchman’s 806, and [157]the 42-pounder was afterwards rejected from our navy as too lumbering for ship-work. All through he kept insisting on the risk of doing this or that, till he brought upon himself the scathing answer of Blakeney: “I have served these sixty-three years, and I never knew any enterprise undertaken without some danger; and this might have been effected with as little danger as any I ever knew.” It was monstrous that men should think they could make war without hazard. Therefore the court justly found Byng guilty of “negligence,”—that is to say, all that deficiency to do enough, all that hanging back from strenuous effort, which are due to want of spirit, to a selfish regard of what the soft-minded man thinks are the interests of his safety, to the moral cowardice which falls short of mere physical poltroonery, and the disaffection which stops on this side of deliberate treason. The law had been made stern after the experience of the last war. Byng knew the conditions of his servitude. They were in the Act by which he exercised his own authority, and he sinned against the light.

Brutal as the wrath of the nation was, it was founded on a sound sentiment. If England was to take her place in the world, there had to be an end of Mathews and Lestock, of Peyton, Griffin, and Cornelius Mitchell. Voltaire’s famous jest that the English shot an admiral to encourage the others suffers from the worst defect a scoff can have. He meant it for a reductio ad absurdum. It was a perfectly accurate statement of fact. The shooting of Byng did encourage the others. Henceforward there might be errors and stupidities, and failures here and there. So there always will be while men remain men, but a service is to be judged by its general spirit, and by the view it takes of errors and failures. Nobody who looks critically at the history of the British Navy in the eighteenth century can fail to note a vast difference between the years before and those after 1757. And we insult the memory of the seamen of the eighteenth century if we suppose that this is so only because the wrath of the nation drove them to greater exertion, or that they did not think the execution of Byng just. Some did not. His second in command, Temple West, resigned rather than continue to serve if he was to be liable to punishment for “an error of judgment.” West [158]by the use of that phrase gave currency to a sophism which has often been used to obscure the real significance of this great sacrifice. But the navy had not protested against the change in the Naval Discipline Act of 1749. The officers who tried Byng did not shrink from applying the law though it cut them to the heart to send a brother in arms to a shameful death. If they had been dishonest men, they might have acquitted him of negligence, but they saw the truth and they did their terrible duty. There is nothing to show that the seamen, whether on the quarter-deck or before the mast, did, as a body, think the sentence unjust. Indeed, the whole navy was now burning with a spirit which asked for nothing better than to be relieved of such leadership as Byng’s.

Three months after the admiral met his fate, the great administration of the elder Pitt was formed. At last the power of England was about to be directed, not by pettifogging and parliamentary intrigue, but by genius and passion. Yet the full effect of the change could not be felt for a space, and until 1758 was well advanced the work of Newcastle may be said to overlap that of Pitt. We may look for a moment at the interval before the power of the navy was fully free to act.

When Hawke superseded Byng in July 1756 it was too late to save Minorca, and no means were at hand for its recovery. He cruised unopposed by the French till December, and then returned home, leaving the command to Admiral Saunders. The interest on both sides was centred now in North America. The French had to reinforce and support their colonies. Our aim was to intercept their succours, and to make ourselves masters of the French port at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, as preparatory to the conquest of Canada. At home our Channel fleet was to watch Brest, and our Mediterranean fleet to keep a check on Toulon; while in America preparations were making to attack Cape Breton upon the arrival of a naval force from England. The work of watching the French ports was not uniformly well done. In April a squadron of four sail under the command of M. Durevest escaped Saunders in the Straits of Gibraltar after a slight brush, and held on to America. In May, Vice-Admiral Henry Osborn came out with reinforcements, and took [159]over the command. The total force was thirteen of the line and two 50-gun ships, a much larger force than the French ships at Toulon could hope to face in open battle. Osborn was a good representative of that large body of naval officers whose names are associated with no single action of great renown, but who did much and varied service, and who contributed to the glory of more fortunate rivals by weary cruising and vigilant watch far away from the scene where more brilliant reputations were being earned. He was also a very typical officer of his time, when the life of the chief was one of stern solitude, and his exercise of authority was harsh. By nature Osborn was of a cold, saturnine disposition. He made no friends, and if he did not actively make enemies his hand weighed on all under his command with oppressive severity. But his vigilance, his strenuous discharge of duty, and his severe exaction of their utmost from his subordinates fitted him admirably for the work he had to do in the Mediterranean, in 1757 and the early months of 1758.

The loss of Minorca imposed a heavy disadvantage on the British admiral who had to watch Toulon. The nearest port at which vessels could be docked was Gibraltar, and this was a serious consideration before the use of copper sheathing had been introduced, and when ships grew rapidly foul. In December, when Osborn was at the Rock, M. de la Clue left Toulon with five sail of the line and one 50-gun ship, in the hope that he might elude his opponent and follow Durevest to America. But Osborn was on the watch in the Straits, and La Clue put into the Spanish port of Carthagena. Here he was watched rather than blockaded. Two more liners and a frigate succeeded in slipping in and joining him. On the 5th February 1758 he put out to meet reinforcements promised him from Toulon, and went as far as Palos; but his friends did not appear, and fearing to have the whole British squadron on his hands, he returned to Carthagena. On the 25th February a reinforcement did appear off the port. It consisted of the Foudroyant, 80, commanded by Captain Duquesne, who had with him the Orphée, 64, and the Oriflamme, 50. Duquesne declined to come within the island of Escombrera, which lies at the mouth of Carthagena harbour, and waited outside to be joined by La Clue. A [160]squall drove him to sea, where his little squadron was sighted, scattered, and chased by Osborn. The Orphée struck to the Revenge and the Berwick. The Oriflamme was driven on shore, but succeeded in getting off and joining La Clue in Carthagena. A noble story is connected with the fortunes of the Foudroyant.

Among the ships under Admiral Osborn’s command was the Monmouth, 64, a poor little liner of our starved model, but a quick sailer. She was commanded by Arthur Gardiner, who had been flag-captain to Byng in the miserable battle of Minorca, and his first lieutenant was Robert Carkett, one of those officers who rose from before the mast. Little is known of Gardiner, save that he had been chosen by Byng to be his flag-captain, which implies that he was a “follower” of his admiral and was under obligations to him. In the battle he had given Byng good and manly advice, and in the court martial his evidence had told severely against his chief. The memory of that day had rankled in Gardiner’s mind. Now La Galissonière’s flag had flown in the Foudroyant in the battle, and the English captain had come to regard her with a concentrated hatred. He is reported to have said that whenever he met her he would attack her, at all odds, and either take her or perish. Charnock, to whom the traditions of the navy of that time came directly, quotes a letter telling how “Two days before he left his port (viz. Gibraltar) being in company with Lord Robert Bertie, and other persons, he with great anguish of soul told them, that my Lord Anson had reflected on him, and said he was one of the men who had brought disgrace upon the nation; that it touched him excessively, but it ran strongly in his mind, that he should have an opportunity shortly to convince his lordship how much he had the honour of the nation at heart, and that he was not culpable.”

When now, on the morning of the 28th February 1758, Gardiner found himself among the chasing ships of Osborn’s squadron, and saw the French ships in flight, he singled out the mighty Foudroyant, and crowded sail in pursuit. The Swiftsure and the Hampton Court accompanied him, but they were heavy sailers and soon fell behind. The chase began early in the morning, and was prolonged till evening, when the [161]Foudroyant and the Monmouth were alone. As he pressed on the chase, Captain Gardiner, so tradition recorded by Charnock tells, said to a military officer who was with him, “Whatever becomes of you and me, this ship (pointing presumably at the Foudroyant) must go into Gibraltar.” Also he called his crew aft, and said, “That ship must be taken, she appears above our match, but Englishmen are not to mind that, nor will I quit her while this ship can swim, or I have a soul left alive.” Finding that he could not shake off his pursuer, and feeling not unreasonably confident that the other English ships were too far off to act against him, Captain Duquesne turned on the Monmouth. If M. Troude, the most careful historian of the French Navy, is right, the Foudroyant suffered from a weakness which was infinitely dishonourable. Her crew was so mutinous that Captain Duquesne could not use the guns of his second deck. The men ran below very soon after the action began. This goes far to explain the action. The Foudroyant, a larger vessel than our three-deckers of the time, carried a broadside at least twice as heavy as the Monmouth’s, and ought, if properly handled, to have made a wreck of her in two broadsides. The bad conduct of Duquesne’s men does not diminish in any way the credit due to Captain Gardiner, who could not know how ill his opponent would be supported, and it does go to prove the moral inferiority of the French Navy at that period. The engagement began about seven o’clock between these two opponents so ill matched in material strength, and lasted till about midnight before help came to the Monmouth. Her mizen-mast was shot away and about a hundred of her men fell killed or wounded, but the mainmast of the bulky Frenchman was brought down on the fore, and he became an unmanageable wreck. At last the Swiftsure and the Hampton Court came up, guided by the sound of the cannon, and at one in the morning Duquesne surrendered, insisting, with chivalrous politeness, on giving up his sword to the officer commanding the Monmouth. This was not now Captain Gardiner. He had been wounded early in the action, but refused to leave the deck. Later he was mortally struck, and handed over the command to Lieutenant Carkett with a last exhortation not to let go his hold of the Frenchman. He died with the [162]supreme consolation of knowing that no one could ever again accuse him of disgracing his country.

La Clue remained at Carthagena till he found an opportunity to slip out and escape to Toulon in April. The attempt to send help to North America had broken down before the watch of the English admiral. It was Osborn’s last service. An attack of paralysis reduced him to the necessity of coming home in July. He was thanked by the House of Commons, and acknowledged its thanks in the words which sound best in the ears of Englishmen, protesting that he had done no more than his duty, and hoping that his services might be “the most inconsiderable that shall be thus honoured.” The command in the Mediterranean devolved on Admiral Brodrick, but the war in that sea died down till it revived in the annus mirabilis of 1759.

The share of the work thrown on the Channel fleet was not so successfully done. Until the superiority of the navy had been more fully established, and St. Vincent had organised his system of sleepless blockade, winter and summer, Brest was a bad port to watch, opening as it does on the wide and stormy Atlantic, not, as Toulon does, on the fierce and fickle but not formidable Mediterranean. In January of 1757 M. de Beauffremont left Brest for America with a squadron. It was too early to venture to enter the St. Lawrence, and he sailed first for the West Indies. Thence he made his way to Cape Breton in June, carrying with him a large convoy of merchant ships. At Cape Breton he found M. Durevest with the four vessels which had eluded Admiral Saunders in April. Another reinforcement joined him under the command of M. Dubois de Lamotte, who had left Brest on the 3rd May with nine sail of the line. The total force under Beauffremont’s command now amounted to eighteen sail of the line and five frigates. An admirable opportunity was offered him of doing some service, but he effected nothing of the active order. His mere presence on the coast had put a stop for the time to a scheme of Lord Loudoun for an attack on Louisbourg. In so far he did some good to his side in a passive way, and with that he was content. And with that he continued to be content. Admiral Holburne sailed from St. Helen’s on the 16th April, picked up some troops at Cork, and reached [163]Halifax in July. His purpose was to join with Lord Loudoun and the colonial forces in an attack on Louisbourg. But the French were judged to be in too great strength to allow of success, and the combined operation was given up. Admiral Holburne, with his fleet of sixteen sail of the line and three frigates, paraded past Louisbourg in August and dared Beauffremont to battle. But the Frenchman would not come out. Holburne returned to Halifax, was reinforced by four sail of the line, and resumed the blockade of Louisbourg, but on the 24th of September a hurricane of extraordinary violence scattered his fleet, and he was blown home. The most severely damaged vessels were sent back at once. The admiral came on with the others, and the trade from Halifax. When the coast was clear Beauffremont came out at the end of October, and reached Brest in November.

We are now at the end of the preliminary period of the Seven Years’ War, and on the eve of the great campaigns which left the Royal Navy the uncontested mistress of the seas, and Great Britain the dominating power in Asia and America. A few words may be devoted to the moral and intellectual qualities of the two navies opposed to one another. It will be seen that from 1755 till well in 1758 our operations had not on the whole been successfully conducted. But when we look close it appears that, except in the notorious case of Byng, the fault lay with the rulers who did not use the fleet with vigour. In one respect the navy had still a good deal to learn. Its blockades were not maintained with the severity of later times. Our admirals, or perhaps it was rather My Lords at the Admiralty, shrank from the risks of a blockade of Brest in winter and spring. But even in the Mediterranean the method of conducting a blockade inevitably diminished its effect. A fleet was kept together outside an enemy’s port till it was all in want of water and a refit. Then it was taken back in a body, with the result that for the time being the blockade was raised. In the Mediterranean this was of less importance, because there always remained the chance of catching the enemy in the Straits. Yet the temporary absence of our fleet allowed M. de la Clue to escape first from Toulon, and then from Carthagena. On the ocean this periodical raising of the blockade rendered any effectual watch [164]in Brest impossible. Yet our navy did, in the main, endeavour to keep close to the enemy’s ports in order to be in a position to attack him whenever he came out, and the aim it steadily pursued was to bring on battle with the French and beat their squadrons at sea. So it gained steadily in skill by prolonged cruising, and it grew no less steadily in confidence and daring.

When we turn to the French we find a great difference. With them the constant aim was to fight as little as might be when fighting was necessary, and to achieve their purpose without fighting, if possible. La Galissonière did not follow up his success against Byng, though he had ocular demonstration of the clumsiness and timidity of his opponent. Beauffremont had declined battle with Holburne, though numbers were on his side. Yet the French spoke of the glory of La Galissonière, and Beauffremont was held to have done right. It would be a very silly national vanity which sought the explanation of the difference in any want of personal courage among the French. Though a nervous and excitable they are a valiant people, and the history of their navy is full of the heroic fights of individual ships against long odds. What explains their inferiority in enterprise is the principle upon which they acted. It has been stated with simplicity by one of their writers on the art of war at sea, Ramatuelle. He says gravely that the French Navy did not aim at destroying a few of the enemy’s ships, but at a more serious object, namely, the execution of its mission. On the face of it this seems absurd, for what more serious object can any fleet have than to defeat its opponent and make itself master at sea? The French answered, that given the great number of the English warships it was idle to suppose that they would ever be destroyed wholly in battle, and that they themselves would be worn out long before a decisive result could be obtained. Therefore when a French admiral sailed to relieve a colony, or save some particular post from attack, or land men to be used against a British possession, he was to avoid battle as far as he could, and if forced to fight then to engage to leeward, cripple as many as he could of the enemy’s spars, and slip away. In short, his aim was always to keep his own fleet intact, and not to destroy the enemy’s. There is a superficial [165]air of ingenuity about all this, but it was in the long run a fatal method of conducting wars. It left us free to direct our blows where we pleased. It made it certain that our fleets would never be seriously crippled. It made it inevitable that sooner or later we would break down the French defence, since that which attacks and wears away will always in the end break through a passive opposition. But its worst consequence was the degrading moral effect it had. The French Navy was taught that to be brought to battle was a misfortune, and thus it came to have a predisposition to give way, to avoid, to seek shelter, to run. We grew accustomed to look upon our opponent as one who feared our blows, and to take it for granted that the French would never stand in the face of an equal force. The working of these two widely different ideals of conduct will be seen in the following years of the war.



Authority.—See last Chapter.

The privateer who plays so conspicuous a part in the maritime history of France is but a dim and subordinate figure beside the great disciplined and triumphant navy of this country. We can generally afford to neglect him and his doings altogether. Yet in the Seven Years’ War he does for one moment come forward in a manner so characteristic and instructive, that we may look at him very briefly before turning to the operations of honest warfare. Ever since the reign of Henry VIII. it had been the custom to favour these skimmers of the sea in Acts for the Encouragement of Seamen, which invited all sorts and conditions of men to set out armed ships to plunder the enemy. In the age of Elizabeth their part was honourable, for the privateers then were often gallant gentlemen—Raleigh or the Earl of Cumberland—who fitted out warships against the national enemy, as their ancestors had raised bands of spearmen and archers to follow King Edward or King Harry. But as the State grew in power and resources, such men found their proper place in the regular forces. The privateer tended more and more to become a mere vulgar plunderer. His competition with the navy for men had made him a nuisance, as far back as the time of the Commonwealth. The private ship with its slovenly discipline, and the greater chances of earning booty it offered, attracted all the restless spirits to whom the order of the navy was grievous. “A regular built privateer” became the naval officer’s phrase for a dirty, ill-managed, inefficient ship. The last great age of the privateer was the War of the Austrian Succession, when the [167]navy was bad and incapable of blocking the enemy’s ports. In the Seven Years’ War, when the navy was equal to its work, the innate tendency of men, whose sole aim was plunder, to sink into mere pirates was rapidly shown. As French commerce soon disappeared off the sea, the privateers were driven to choose between starvation and the robbery of neutrals or even of their own countrymen. They made the choice which might have been expected of them. Very soon the outrages of the privateers in the Channel became a downright pest. They took to boarding neutral vessels, and to extorting booty or blackmail. At last the complaints of friendly states drove the British Government to adopt vigorous measures of repression. Extreme offenders found their way to Execution Dock, and in 1759 an Act was passed limiting the right to receive a “letter of marque” to vessels of over one hundred tons, belonging to owners who could give some guarantee of good conduct. An exception was made for small vessels belonging to the Channel Islands, which did some useful piloting and scouting work. The privateers are only mentioned here because the measures taken to restrain them show that the navy was growing in power to discharge its proper function, and that the country was coming to realise that it ought to leave the duty of representing it on the sea to a disciplined force with a code of honour.

It has been said already that some time passed, after the formation of Pitt’s great ministry in June 1757, before the naval and military powers of the country could be co-ordinated for definite and profitable purposes. One of the uses to which they were put reflects little honour on the sagacity of the Great Commoner. He reverted to futile expeditions against the coast of France. By the inevitable working of unvarying conditions these revivals of old errors produced identical results. They do not deserve that more time should be spent on them than is necessary to record that they took place, and came to an unavoidable failure. In September of 1757 Hawke sailed with a strong squadron, carrying a detachment of troops under General Mordaunt, for the purpose of taking Rochefort. He sailed on the 8th of that month, and by the 6th October he was back, and Rochefort was not taken. We did plunder the poor little island of Aix, and that was [168]all—all except the ensuing court of inquiry and wrangle. Yet it was decided to make another and more serious effort next year, for Pitt clung with persistence to this part of his military policy. His critics called it breaking windows with guineas, but he valued it for two reasons. He hoped that the pressure on their coast would constrain the French to withdraw part of their troops from Germany where they were threatening the king’s electorate of Hanover, and were weighing on our ally the King of Prussia. It was a bad reason, for if an effectual diversion was to be made we ought to have landed a substantial army, capable of establishing itself in France. The second and perhaps better reason was given in 1759 by Captain Hervey of the Monmouth, who was serving in the Brest blockade, under Hawke, when he landed on the little island of Molines and levied a contribution on the inhabitants. The priest appealed to him to spare their poverty, and Captain Hervey answered, “That he was sorry to distress the poor inhabitants, but what he now did was to show the enemy and all Europe that the French could not protect their people in their own sight, much less dare the invasion of England.” After the shameful panic of 1756, there was something to be said for the policy of showing that our fleets could sweep along the French coast, and that the enemy would not dare to give them battle. This purpose at least was achieved to the full by the great combined expedition which made three sorties in 1758. A fleet of twenty-four sail of the line under Anson convoyed 14,000 troops under the Duke of Marlborough to St. Malo in June. The place proved too strong, and the expedition came back to the Isle of Wight. A scheme for attacking Cherbourg was defeated by a storm, and the expedition returned. The Duke of Marlborough was now replaced by General Bligh, a veteran called over from Ireland to take up the “buccaneering” work when officers of more interest had come to regard it with weary disgust. A second sortie was made, and Cherbourg was taken on the 6th August. This was our only genuine success, for several privateers were destroyed and some guns were brought away. As it was thought that more might have been done, the expedition sailed on its third sortie in September to make another attempt on St. Malo. But by [169]this time we had achieved our purpose of inducing the French to withdraw troops from Germany and look to their own coast. The soldiers landed to invest the town were assailed by superior numbers, and driven to re-embark in the Bay of St. Cas with heavy loss. The military management was not good, but no skill could have secured success. The naval work of transport and convoy was thoroughly well executed.

It is a satisfaction to be able to turn to scenes where the navy was more effectually employed. In March of 1758 a squadron of small vessels, under the command of Captain Holmes, drove a French and Austrian garrison out of Embden, a port belonging to our ally the King of Prussia. This was a most useful piece of service, since it helped us to retain the power to land soldiers on the continent for the defence of Hanover and the prosecution of the war in Germany. In the following month of April Hawke was allowed to use a squadron in a way much better calculated to convince the French of our superiority at sea, and of their inability to invade, than any number of mere sporadic raids on their coast, since it gave them no chance of retaliating as they did in the Bay of St. Cas. Pitt, who was always well informed of the enemy’s movements, learnt early in the year that a great convoy was being prepared in the Basque Roads for America, and was to sail under protection of a small squadron. Hawke was sent to intercept it with seven sail of the line and three frigates. He found five French line-of-battle ships and several frigates, with forty merchant ships carrying 3000 troops to reinforce the American garrisons, starting or about to start from the Basque Roads and the Pertuis d’Antioche, the anchorages on the mainland just opposite the islands of Oléron and Ré. Between the 4th and 6th of April he broke up the convoy and drove it into the mud. In their anxiety to escape to Rochefort up the Charente the Frenchmen threw their guns overboard and started their water to lighten the ships. When it is remembered that they were five to seven, and on their own coasts, the prompt flight of the French liners speaks aloud of the little spirit of their navy at this period.

On the 7th of the same month of April Captain John Campbell of the Essex, 64, and a fireship, the Pluto, Captain James Hume, fell in with and scattered a convoy of twelve [170]French merchant ships from Bordeaux under protection of a frigate and a large privateer. The two armed ships were taken after a resistance which cost Captain Hume his life. Such pieces of service as these were not glorious, but they were typical examples of the work done by the fleet to sweep the enemy off the sea.

Far beyond the waters of Europe the navy was beginning to apply itself to the task of rooting out the French settlements. The operations of 1758 were preparatory for the great undertaking of the following year; one of them makes us acquainted with the oddest figure of all this war, the Quaker Thomas Cumming. This man was a trader on the west coast of Africa, who had elaborated a scheme for expelling the French from all their stations. When asked how he reconciled his active share in hostilities with his religious principles, he answered with ingenious casuistry by saying, that if his scheme had been executed with the force he thought necessary there would have been no resistance, and therefore no fighting. Mr. Cumming had been busy from early in 1757 in urging his ideas on Ministers, but it was not till he secured a hearing from Pitt and in the following year that he saw his advice put in practice, though on a smaller scale than he wished. In the interval a French squadron, commanded by M. de Kersaint, had made an unsuccessful attack on Cape Coast Castle. This event may have served to awaken ministers to the need there was for putting our settlements on a safer footing. The fortunes of M. de Kersaint may be followed for the sake of one name with which they make us acquainted, and also because they show how wide-ranging are the movements of war at sea. Having failed at Cape Coast Castle the French officer stood across the Atlantic to the West Indies. At Cape Français, now called Cape Haytiën, in Hispaniola, he was engaged on convoy work, when he had an action with a British squadron under Commodore Forrest on the 21st October. The English and French accounts cannot be reconciled. According to our version three of our ships engaged most gallantly with a much stronger French force and got the better of them. Our story runs that M. de Kersaint, having shown a disposition to engage, Commodore Forrest consulted his two subordinate captains, and one of them [171]answered that it would be a pity to disappoint the Frenchman. The officer to whom this spirited reply is attributed was Captain Maurice Suckling, to whom we owe the introduction into the navy of the heir of all its past labours, and the most famous of all its chiefs, his nephew, Horatio Nelson. The action need not be discussed. It was counted a gallant affair long before Nelson, with whom it was always a cherished memory and the 21st October a fateful day, was known to fame. Beyond confirming our growing sense of superiority to the French it produced no effect, for the convoy got away. If, as the French deny, M. de Kersaint was in much greater force, he no doubt acted on the rule of his service described above, and threw away his chance of overpowering the three British ships in order to fulfil his mission to see the merchant vessels safe to port.

It was in March 1758 that Mr. Cummings saw his idea put into practice. A small squadron, under Captain Henry Marsh, sailed on the 9th of that month, carrying the Quaker with it. On the 30th April (the month in which Hawke scattered the French convoy in the Basque Roads), St. Louis de Senegal was taken, and the supply of slaves for the French colonies much reduced. An attack on the island of Gorée in May failed, and then the commodore sent on to the West Indies with the trade, which in plain English meant the kidnapped negroes.

So far the enterprise had been successful enough to encourage a repetition and to earn Mr. Cummings “the gratification of a handsome pension.” It was decided to complete the conquest begun by Commodore Marsh. The officer chosen for the task was Keppel. On the 26th October he sailed from Cork with four line-of-battle ships, one 50-gun ship, six smaller vessels, and a body of troops. He was driven back by bad weather, but started finally on the 11th November. On the way out the 50-gun ship, the Lichfield, was lost on the coast of Morocco. The loss was of no great importance to the squadron, but it is to be mentioned because we afterwards, and that at a time when Pitt took a tone of haughty superiority to the civilised powers of Europe, condescended to pay the bloodstained savage, whom we termed Emperor of Morocco, a heavy ransom to save the crew [172]from slavery. It was one of the worst passages in our long ignominious toleration of the pirates of Barbary. On the 14th December Keppel was at the Canaries, and on the 28th he reached Gorée a little island near the Cape de Verd. The French post soon surrendered under the combined pressure of bombardment by the ships from the sea and attack by the troops under Colonel Worge on shore. Worge remained as governor of Senegal, and Keppel returned home.

While Marsh and Keppel were expelling the French from the slave-producing region of West Africa, the navy had taken a foremost share in delivering the first great blow at the French dominion in North America. Boscawen and Amherst had taken Louisbourg, and had thereby cleared the way for the capture of Quebec by Wolfe and Saunders in the following year. The incapable Government of France was now fairly launched into a war in Germany, and could spare neither attention nor adequate forces for the defence of its colonies.

A squadron of six line-of-battle ships and five frigates left early in the year for Louisbourg and arrived in safety. Three of the liners were armed en flûte, and were practically mere transports. Such a handful of vessels as this was not even a match for the English ships which had wintered at Halifax. Our squadron in North American waters was now under the orders of Sir Charles Hardy, who came out in the Captain in early spring. M. Drucourt, the naval officer who was governor of Louisbourg, foreseeing that he would be seriously attacked, could only use the vessels in the port to strengthen his defences of the place. Three frigates, the Biche, the Echo, and the Fidèle, were sunk to block the entrance to the harbour. The measures taken to prevent the English from coming in had one good effect for the French. They prevented the useless sacrifice of more of their ships than were already in harbour. On the 29th May Captain Duchaffault de Besné, who had left Rochefort on the 2nd with four liners, one armed en flûte and three frigates, appeared outside Louisbourg. Finding the entrance closed he landed the soldiers he brought with him and went on to Quebec, where he remained a helpless spectator of the disaster.

Boscawen meanwhile had left Spithead on the 18th [173]February with a powerful fleet, escorting 13,000 troops under the command of Amherst, who had Wolfe with him as one of his subordinates. The soldiers were distributed in 150 transports. This great armament sailed first to Halifax, where Boscawen collected the whole naval force in those waters, now amounting to twenty-three sail of the line and eighteen frigates. When the necessary arrangements had been made at the base of operations soldiers and sailors started, “well combined in mutual love to each other and common resolution against the enemy,” on the 29th of May, just when Duchaffault was landing the last French reinforcement. On the 2nd June the fleet reached Gabarus Bay, on the south-eastern coast of Cape Breton, below the place where a heap of ruins marks what was once the site of Louisbourg. The combined operations lasted till the 26th July, when Drucourt beat the chamade after a stout fight. As there was no enemy at sea the bulk of the work fell to the army, and was performed in a fashion presenting a welcome contrast to the futility of Carthagena and Pondicherry. Amherst was a capable general, and Wolfe, besides being the most exact of officers in all matters of detail, had the calm and rapid mind of the born leader in war, and that zest for the joys of battle which makes the supreme fighter. To the navy it fell to land the troops, to supply them, to assist in the bombardment by which some of the French ships in the harbour were destroyed, and to do one dashing piece of work in its own line.

The steady bombardment from land and sea had greatly reduced the French squadron in the harbour, but two of their ships remained in a condition to aid in the defence as late as the 24th of July. These were the Prudent, 74, and the Bienfaisant, 64. Boscawen resolved to cut them out, that is, to send in armed boats to board them and bring them away. At noon of the 24th a barge and a pinnace or cutter from every ship, each commanded by a lieutenant and a mate or midshipman, met at the flagship. The command of the whole was given to George Balfour of the Etna fireship, and John Laforey of the Hunter sloop, the two senior commanders of the fleet. The commander was, and is, the captain who is not of full, or “post” rank. It might have given a thinking Frenchman some ground for reflection if he had known that [174]of these officers Balfour was a Scotchman, and therefore one of a people which had once been the old ally of France, while Laforey’s name is only the anglicised form of La Foret, and he was of Huguenot descent, one of the thousands whose swords and skill were turned against their persecutors by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The boats collected at evening round the flagship of Sir Charles Hardy, who commanded the advance ships at the mouth of the harbour. At midnight they put off in a thick fog with muffled oars and in strict silence. The steady fire from our batteries attracted the attention of the French, who were on the ramparts in expectation of an immediate assault, and were keeping up a constant musketry fire. Laforey and Balfour led their boats past the battery at the mouth of the harbour unseen and unheard. They had carefully marked the place of the French ships during the day, and were able to take a sweep out into the harbour and advance through the night and the fog, till the hulks of the Prudent and the Bienfaisant loomed up through the darkness. Then the uncontrollable love of the British seamen for shouting broke out into wild cheering, and all the boats dashed alongside the liners. Laforey carried the Prudent and Balfour the Bienfaisant. One of them is said by tradition to have made his way into the bows of the French ship by a place more convenient than seemly. The actual taking of the vessels was not difficult, as most of their crews were ashore aiding in the defence. But the noise in the harbour drew the fire of the land batteries, and the duty of taking the prizes out was one of great hazard. The Prudent was aground and could not be moved, so that Laforey had to set her on fire, but the Bienfaisant was towed away in spite of the fire from the batteries. It was next day that M. Drucourt surrendered. The total loss of the French Navy was four line-of-battle ships burnt and one taken, four vessels sunk to block the entry to the harbour and frigate taken. Only one vessel, the Comète frigate, found an opportunity to slip through the blockade and escape to France.

After the fall of Louisbourg, Sir Charles Hardy was despatched to the mouth of the St. Lawrence with a body of troops, commanded by Wolfe, to destroy some French ports and intercept the squadron of Duchaffault, who, it was [175]calculated, would endeavour to get away before the winter. The destruction was effected, but the ships escaped. Boscawen returned home with the bulk of the fleet, leaving Rear-Admiral Durell to winter in Halifax, and resume the blockade of Quebec in spring. The victorious British fleet and the French squadron were making their way home in the stormy autumn weather by the same route. On the 27th October, when Boscawen’s ships were much scattered by gales and he had only four liners—one being the captured Bienfaisant—and some frigates with him, he fell in with Duchaffault, seventy miles to the west of Ushant. The French squadron consisted of four of the line and one 56-gun ship belonging to the American company. It had just captured the Carnarvon, East Indiaman. The stormy weather prevented a close action, which was fortunate for the Frenchman, for two of his liners were only armed en flûte. Duchaffault’s vessels scattered after some confused firing. He himself got to the Basque Roads, the Carnarvon was retaken, and the other vessels, with one exception, reached home. The unlucky ship which did not was the Belliqueux, 74, commanded by Captain Martel, who seemingly became confused between the bad weather and the British fleet. He lost his course completely, came up on the wrong side of the Land’s End, and was embayed in the Bristol Channel. While at anchor under Lundy, he was sighted by the Antelope, 50, Captain Thomas Saumarez. According to our account the Belliqueux surrendered, and was a valuable prize, for she was found to be full of fine furs. The French will have it that she was unfairly taken, her captain having appealed to the humanity of our officer on the ground of the distressed state of his ship, and having also cited cases in which English vessels had been helped at French ports in war. The incredible tale is still told to illustrate the “disloyalty” of the English.

It goes much further to prove how much the French warships were used as transports and traders, partly by the Government, but also by their own officers, who made up for bad and irregular pay by what they called la pacotille, i.e. commercial ventures. If Captain Martel did, as his countrymen say, propose to go into Bristol and throw himself on the “loyalty” of the English for relief, it is also highly probable [176]that he meant to get money for his furs from the Bristol merchants.

We have now come to the annus mirabilis of the Seven Years’ War, 1759. It was a year of extraordinary events and changes of fortune, and was also emphatically the year of the navy. From first to last the fleet was our main weapon, but both before and after 1759 it met with no worthy adversary at sea, and was mostly employed in co-operating with troops. In this year it had to contend with other fleets, and the tale to be told is one of true naval warfare.

The experience of 1758 had not been wholly lost on the French Government, incapable as it was. It had been brought to see that its fleets must be better used if its colonial possessions were not to fall one by one before such expeditions as had taken Louisbourg. To meet the English everywhere was plainly impossible, but there was one course which, if followed with success, would bring swift and decisive victory. England itself might be invaded. A blow struck home to her heart would be mortal, and would at once undo all the effect of her successes in distant seas. The ministers of King Louis XV. were the more encouraged to try the venture because they were convinced that the British fleet would be so weakened by distant enterprises as to be unable to collect a superior force in the Channel. So a plan such as had been laid before by Louis XIV., and was to be laid again by Napoleon, was drafted. Troops were collected on the coast of Normandy, and at Vannes in the Morbihan, on the south side of Brittany. To clear the way for them the fleet was to be used in a fashion which shows that the boasted originality of Napoleon’s genius was in this, as in so many other fields, largely mere imitation of the methods of the old monarchy. The first object was to draw off and distract the British fleet. A squadron was to be prepared at Dunkirk, and put under the command of Thurot, a very brave and honest privateer captain, who had made for himself a reputation. It was to sail north and draw off our ships by menacing the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. The main French fleet had its headquarters at Brest, and was to be led by M. de Conflans, Vice-Admiral and Marshal of France. La Clue was to sail from Toulon, pass the Straits and [177]join the fleet at Brest. The two were then to cover the passage of the army under the Duc d’Aiguillon, which again was to come out from Vannes in transports, and from the coast of Normandy in flat-bottomed vessels building at Havre. It will be seen that this is essentially Napoleon’s plan in a simpler and less hazardous form, with the further merit that it was to be executed by the French fleet alone, and not with the co-operation of a most inefficient and reluctant ally. His scheme could not have come within measurable distance of success save by miracles of good fortune and the help of incredible ineptitude on our side on which he had no right to calculate. Of this one it may be said that if the French fleet had been efficient, and the chiefs prompt and bold, it might at least have driven us hard in the Channel. But it needed these conditions, and also that the naval resources of England should have been less than they were, and her admirals less vigilant and resolute. As every one of these conditions was wanting, the invasion scheme broke down in a long succession of failures and disasters. Pitt met it by effectual counter-measures in European waters, and did not for one instant slacken in his efforts to sweep the French from the continent of North America, the West Indies, and the Eastern Seas. Every aggressive French naval force in Europe was faced by an opposite more powerful than itself, and meanwhile Wolfe and Saunders sailed to Quebec, while Moore and Hodgson acted in the West Indies. In those waters the French Navy did appear, represented by a squadron under M. de Bompart, who sailed early and came back late, in time to be one of the causes which hurried on the final disaster of the great invasion scheme.

In all this year the sun looked down, as the world rolled round on its diurnal course, first on Pocock and D’Aché contending on the coast of Coromandel, then on the mobile, elastic, and impenetrable barrier drawn by the fleets of Boscawen and Hawke round the coast of France, then on the British squadron helping to break the French dominion in America to pieces. All else went on behind the home fleets, and was dependent on them, and as no narrative can be simultaneous, but must needs be consecutive, the first place is to be given to the operations of the war in Europe. At the [178]most northerly point of the line we had to defend, Commodore Boys was stationed to watch Thurot’s squadron in Dunkirk. Admiral Smith was stationed with Piercy Brett in the Downs, and between them and Boys, Rodney watched the flotilla preparing at Havre de Grâce. Hawke, with the grand fleet, took in hand the blockade of Brest, while the duty of preventing the junction of La Clue with Conflans, by blockading Toulon, or by holding the Straits of Gibraltar, was entrusted to Boscawen. A glance at the map will show that the advantage of position lay with us. The hazards and uncertainties of war at sea are always many—and they were more numerous in the times when the ships depended on sails and the wind. Yet the balance of chances was on our side, since it was more probable on the whole that Hawke and Boscawen could combine, if either failed to stop his immediate adversary, than that Conflans or La Clue could. On the supposition, however, that Boscawen was eluded and left behind, so that Hawke was in peril of having both French fleets on him at once, he could still fall back on, or be joined by, the ships in the Downs. Then he would be able to give battle, while Boscawen could follow, and either make our force overwhelming, or bring up a fresh squadron on the French when newly damaged by battle. Our squadrons had in fact the advantage of having shorter distances to go than the French in order to join forces, and even if driven back they would be driven back on the support of friends.

In order of time the first effectual blow struck by our navy at the French as they endeavoured to unite for the invasion of England was the bombardment of Havre, on the 2nd July, by Rodney. Flat-bottomed boats were being constructed there, and we poured bombs on them, with good effect, for a whole day. In order to direct the service the better, Rodney transferred his flag from the Achilles, 60, which drew too many feet of water to come close in on that shallow coast, to the Venus frigate, commanded by Captain Samuel Hood. This service brought together two men of strong and widely different character, who will be found acting together at a great crisis twenty-two years later—not, however, for the first time, for Hood had been a subordinate with Rodney in the Ludlow Castle long before. The bombardment was effective, [179]and so was a stroke struck at some of the French boats as they endeavoured to slip down the coast later on. Meanwhile Boys watched Thurot at Dunkirk so closely that the Frenchman had no chance to escape till the very end of the year. The first ruinous blow at the complicated French scheme was given far to the South.

Boscawen sailed from Spithead on the 14th April with eight sail of the line and frigates to take over the command on the Mediterranean. He joined Brodrick, who was already blockading Toulon, off Cape Sicié, on 16th May. The fleet now consisted of fifteen ships of the line, with twelve frigates and sloops and two fireships. La Clue, who had been unable to drive off Brodrick’s smaller force, could do nothing against Boscawen. His squadron was not yet ready for any service. The blockade lasted till the 8th July, when want of water and the necessity for cleaning his ships compelled Boscawen to return to Gibraltar. While before Toulon he had made an unsuccessful attempt to destroy two French frigates under protection of the coast batteries. He reached Gibraltar on the 4th August, after taking in fresh water on the neutral coast of Spain, and began to clean and refit. Frigates were stationed on the Spanish shore and the coast of Barbary to give notice of any attempt of the French to pass the Straits.

The retreat of our squadron opened the way to the French, and if La Clue had thought himself able to act at once, he might have passed the Straits while Boscawen’s ships were taking in their water on the coast of Spain. But the sense of inferiority, material and moral, which plainly weighed on the minds of all French naval officers in this year, made him hesitate. Having that to do which could only be done by extreme promptitude, he did not leave Toulon till the early days of August, when the British admiral was already at Gibraltar, and in a position to intercept him in the Straits. During the night of the 16th-17th of August the French fleet approached the passage leading to the Ocean. It was sighted by Captain M‘Cleverty, of the Gibraltar frigate, who was cruising between Estépona and Ceuta Point, and who reported at once to the admiral. Boscawen’s fleet was still at work refitting, and in the flagship, the Namur, the sails were unbent—that is, not fixed to the yards. But such good speed [180]was made that by ten o’clock at night the ships were all out. They went as they were ready and as place served, with no pedantic attention to the fopperies of order. Boscawen had with him the Warspite, Culloden, Swiftsure, Intrepid, America, Portland, and Guernsey. Admiral Brodrick could not clear the bay till later than his commander-in-chief, and followed him with the other ships. There was an interval of some miles between them, but the wind was easterly, and Brodrick was certain of being able to join his chief if the leading ships were able to overtake the enemy. Both pressed eagerly along the route they calculated that the enemy must have followed.

Meanwhile the French admiral, who had with him twelve sail of the line and three frigates, had headed his pursuers, and as the British ships were leaving Gibraltar Bay had got as far as Cape Spartel, and had cleared the current which runs from the ocean into the Mediterranean. At ten at night he had his ships about him, though not in good order; for some of them were bad sailers, and were lagging behind his flagship L’Océan. Yet he believed that he could communicate his orders, or at least show the course he meant to follow. So he headed W.N.W., and then put out the guiding light of the flagship in order to conceal his route from the English frigates. The calculation that his own captains would see and understand, in the darkness and the excitement, was rash—and all the more because when he left Toulon it was understood that if the Straits were passed the fleet was to head for Cadiz, anchor there, and make another start. It was a foolish plan, because it invited another blockade. La Clue, therefore, was absolutely right in making for the open sea. But now was seen the influence of that miserable theory, that war can be waged effectually by hasty runs from one cover to another and by evasion. Five of the French line and all the frigates were at some distance from the flagship. When La Clue and the six vessels so close to him, that they had no shadow of excuse for not seeing what he was doing, steered to the W.N.W., the laggards acted on the supposition that the obvious course was to run for cover, and headed nearly due north for Cadiz. Thus all through the night the two sailed on diverging lines, and when day broke the French admiral found [181]himself with seven sail only of his fifteen about him, and saw that five of his line and all his frigates had vanished in what direction he knew not, though he might well have guessed, under the horizon.

At this moment the best course he could have followed might well have been to steer for Cadiz, whither it was probable that his lost vessels had gone, and where they were indeed waiting for him. The next best course might have been to keep on straight for Brest. But he remained where he was, looking about for the liners which had parted company. Some sail were seen on the horizon, and La Clue headed towards them in the hope that they were his friends. They turned out to be Swedish merchant-ships. Then other sails were seen behind, and for them also the Frenchman steered only to discover that they belonged to the fleet of Boscawen. Nothing now remained to be done but to flee for refuge, and in the circumstances the only cover La Clue had any chance of reaching was the neutral coast of Portugal, to the North.

When the French were seen on the forenoon of the 18th August, the British fleet was still in two divisions: Boscawen was leading with one, and Brodrick was some distance astern. The easterly breeze was stronger near the land than out at sea, and when the presence of the enemy was signalled, Brodrick crowded on sail, and rapidly reduced the space between himself and his admiral. It is a proof of the superiority of our officers and men in seamanship, the art by which the utmost is made of a ship, that although the French vessels were as a rule better built for speed than ours, and although those with La Clue were swift and their crews had every motive to make haste, yet the van of the British fleet forced on action early in the afternoon. The French would only make a running fight, as their pursuers overtook them, one by one, and ranged themselves on either side. Captain de Sabran-Grammont, of the Centaure, 74, the last ship in the French squadron, and the first to be overtaken, showed the virtue which redeemed the follies and vices of the nobles of his country, a flawless personal valour. He made a gallant effort to cover the flight of his brother-captains. Though Boscawen and two others attacked him at once, he made so fierce a resistance that the Centaure did not surrender till long [182]after dark, when the captain was dead, 200 of her men had fallen, and she was so shattered that the prize crews had the utmost difficulty in keeping her afloat. Boscawen’s flagship the Namur lost her mizen-mast, and the admiral had to transfer his flag to the Newark. But for errors of management on the part of individual captains, the whole of the French squadron must have been taken. Some of our captains were awkward in handling their ships, and allowed other vessels of ours to get between them and the enemy. Others who came up on the lee side of the French did so at such a distance that they were never able to force a close action. These mistakes provoked Boscawen into declaring when all was over, that “It was well, but that it might have been a great deal better.” No French vessel was taken on the 18th except the Centaure. During the night two, the Guerrier and the Souverain, turned to the west, and escaped in the dark. Both reached Rochefort. The four remaining with the admiral took refuge in the waters of Portugal at Lagos. The flagship L’Océan and the Redoutable ran ashore, the Téméraire and the Modeste anchored some distance out, in reliance on Portuguese neutrality. But Boscawen would not allow that to be any protection. Both were taken, and the two which had been beached were burnt. La Clue, who had lost a leg by a cannon-shot in the action of the day before, died at Lagos. For the breach of Portuguese neutrality we afterwards apologised, but no rebuke was given to Boscawen.

The Toulon fleet’s share in the great invasion scheme had completely failed. Boscawen returned home with part of his fleet and a large convoy of merchant-ships. Admiral Brodrick remained to blockade the French, who had taken refuge in Cadiz. A storm drove him off in January 1760, and they were able to escape to Toulon.

Though a combined operation was no longer possible, after the disaster of the 18th and 19th August, the French still clung to the hope that an invasion might be carried out from Brest, where M. de Conflans lay with the main fleet. All through the fine-weather months he was keenly watched by Hawke. The French force was of twenty-one sail of the line, the English of twenty-five, and the difference was enough to convince the ministers of Louis XV. that it was useless to expect a victory [183]from the use of open force. Yet they would not renounce the hope of carrying out an invasion by means of a fleet confessedly unequal to the hazard of giving battle on the way to our shores. The situation must have arisen in any case, for even if La Clue had escaped Boscawen’s pursuit, it was to be supposed that the English admiral would follow him, and thereby bring his own ships to reinforce Hawke. The two would have formed a very superior force to the combined fleets of Conflans and La Clue, even if the second, after evading Boscawen, had also avoided running into Sir Edward’s much stronger fleet outside of Brest. If he had steered for Rochefort, the French admirals would still have been divided. When this combination was ruined by the defeat of La Clue, by the capture and destruction of five of his best ships and the imprisonment of most of the others at Cadiz, all hope of invading England ought to have been resigned. But the French king and his ministers could not reconcile themselves to failure. So they hit upon a scheme of folly such as would be incredible in other than men too ignorant to understand the task they had undertaken, too vain to allow themselves to be taught, and so reckless in their selfish frivolity that rather than allow themselves to be blamed for doing nothing they would do what in all probability would bring ruin to the officers and men at their orders.

In substance it was that M. de Conflans was to wait till bad weather drove Sir Edward Hawke away from Brest. Then he was to slip out, pick up the transports and troops collected for the invasion at Vannes, and convoy them to some point on the coast of Great Britain. The calculation was that even if Conflans was intercepted by Hawke, he would be able to cover the transports, which could go on to their destination, or at the worst could come back safe. Yet the French ministers had the means of knowing that there was a British squadron in reserve behind Hawke in the Downs, and that the events at Lagos had set free Boscawen. We still hear of invasion schemes no wiser than this, and it is no waste of space or time to insist on the folly of this historical plan. Conflans, who was visibly unequal to the duty of giving Hawke battle, was to go to sea hampered by a convoy and there run the hazard of being brought to action. The convoy, notoriously [184]incapable of defending itself, was to be supposed to go on even when its protecting ships were assailed, though there were other British ships than Hawke’s, and he could have spared part of his fleet for the purpose of pursuing the transports, and yet have left himself equal to Conflans. If Napoleon had not laid plans equally fantastic, if projects for the invasion of England every whit as absurd were not elaborated by soldiers of the kind called “scientific” to-day, we should be tempted to think that the plan of campaign drafted at Paris in 1759 could only have been the work of the feather-headed harlot who managed the languid debauchee on the French throne, and of the men who got office by her favour.

With most naval battles we can afford to treat the sea as an open plain needing no description. But this is not the case with the battle of Quiberon. The lie of the land is as necessary to be kept in mind as the shape of the country is for the proper understanding of Oudenarde or Salamanca. It has been said above that while Conflans lay blockaded at Brest, the troops for the invasion of England were collected at Vannes, in the Morbihan, on the south side of the Breton Peninsula. From the Pointe de Penmarch, the south-westerly headland of Finisterre, the coast runs to the east, but with a slope to the south, till it reaches the entry of the river Vilaine. Here it turns wholly to the south, and stretches down to the Pyrenees and the coast of Biscay. It is mostly foul on the southern side of Brittany, and fringed with islands. At two-thirds or so of the distance from the Pointe de Penmarch to the mouth of the Vilaine, the peninsula of Quiberon juts out to the south, in shape something like a lobster’s claw with its hook turned to the east. On the eastern side is the bay of Quiberon. The anchorage is fine where the bottom of sand mud and shells is free from rocks, but in many places it is foul, and of its total breadth of nine miles, only five or six are really safe for large vessels. Following the line of the mainland on the north side, we reach the entry to the tangle of islands, deep passages, shallows, and lagoons named the Morbihan, to the north of which is the town of Vannes. In this refuge the transports had been collected to wait till the fleet came round from Brest and secured them a safe passage to the sea. The Morbihan is closed on the south side [185]by the peninsula of Rhuis. The coast goes eastward from Rhuis to the Vilaine, and then runs south in a rolling line to the Pointe de Croisic, at the northern side of the Loire, beyond which it need not now be followed. The peninsula of Quiberon, the entry to the Vilaine, and the Pointe de Croisic form roughly a right angle. Now draw a line from Croisic to the Pointe de Conguel on the north-west, which is the southern extremity of the peninsula of Quiberon. All along that line, with openings of clear water here and there, are piled the perils of the Breton coast, innumerable and thrown together in inextricable confusion. In front of Croisic and at low tide a number of black rocks at distances of from three and a half to five and a half miles show the position of the mass of sunken reef called the Plateau du Four. To the west of the Four there is an open passage closed on the outer side by the rocks called the Grands Cardinaux. From them stretches to the north-west an unbroken column of islands and rocks, separated from the Pointe de Conguel by the passage known as La Teignouse. The approach to this is made perilous on the west by the Plateau de Mirvideaux. To the south and west of the small islands between Les Grands Cardinaux and La Teignouse lies the Fair Island, Belleisle. The entry to Quiberon by La Teignouse being hazardous, the bay is approached from the south-east—that is to say, between Les Grands Cardinaux and Pointe de Saint Jacques on the peninsula of Rhuis, which is due north of them. This opening is ten miles across. When a fleet was coming in from the open sea, it would pass to the south of Belleisle and of Les Grands Cardinaux. Then it would turn first to the north, and afterwards bend to the north-west, till it reached the clean anchorage inside the peninsula of Quiberon. The triangle of perils and barriers here roughly described was the scene of the most heroic achievement in the long history of the Royal Navy.

Hawke established the blockade of Brest early in June. No serious attempt to drive him off was made by the French. On the 2nd July Conflans tried to do by trick what he dared not venture to do by force. The bulk of Hawke’s fleet lay some distance off at sea, while an inshore, or advanced, squadron under Captain Hervey watched the French fleet at [186]anchor in Camaret Bay, just outside the entrance to Brest. This was the Augustus John Hervey, afterwards third Earl of Bristol, who was the son of the Lord Hervey so savagely attacked by Pope, and of the beautiful Molly Lepel. He maintained the well-established reputation of his family for immoral ability. His marriage to, and collusive divorce from, the notorious Elizabeth Chudleigh, bigamous Duchess of Kingston, are conspicuous events in the scandalous chronicle of the time. But though his private life was always disorderly and occasionally ignominious, he was a very brave and skilful naval officer. All through the summer of 1759 he and Captain Keppel were the eyes and hands of the fleet. When on the 2nd July four French line-of-battle ships stood out of Camaret Bay to drive him off, Hervey did not hesitate to engage for a moment, though he had with him only two of the line and some frigates. He well knew that the sound of his guns would soon bring up Hawke’s fleet, and it did. The French drew back immediately under the protection of their batteries. Their intention had been, after driving off Hervey, to go round to Quiberon, chase away the small squadron under Captain Reynolds, of the Firm, and liberate the transports at Vannes—a proposal worthy of the intelligence they showed all through the year. The sub-blockade of Quiberon remained unbroken. When the Firm became foul, Reynolds was relieved by Captain Duff, of the Rochester, 50, who remained in possession of the waters of the French bay with four 50-gun ships and some frigates till he was swept into the great hurricane of wind and battle of the 20th November.

The fine weather and the energy shown by Pitt in supporting the fleets at sea made it possible to keep the crews well supplied with provisions. They enjoyed a good health of which there were few examples in the previous history of the navy. Yet the blockade was tedious work, relieved only by such events as this action of the 2nd July, by the cutting out of the Modeste from under the French batteries, a gallant feat of Hervey’s, or by the unsuccessful attempt of Captain Barrington of the Achilles to destroy some French ships in the Morbihan. Meanwhile there was growing impatience at Paris with the timidity of Conflans, who showed [187]extreme reluctance to go to sea without an express order. Conflans had served with some credit, but he owed his command to court favour, and had no reputation as a manœuvrer in the French Navy, while all his words and actions show him to have been light and ostentatious, with no firmness of character. The instructions he issued to his captains when he did go out are full of a pretence of confidence which was ridiculous after the timidity of the summer, and more ridiculous when read by the light of the final disaster. He wrote as if he feared that Hawke would not give him a good chance to fight.

On the 9th November a gale, and the needs of the blockading fleet, did for the French what they could not do for themselves. Hawke was compelled to bear up for Torbay. Frigates were left to watch Brest. The westerly gale which had forced Hawke to draw off from the dangerous lee shore of Brest, brought home the French squadron of M. de Bompart, now coming back from the West Indies. To his surprise and relief, he found the way to port open. His safe arrival convinced Conflans that Hawke must be gone. Taking the crews out of Bompart’s ships to reinforce his own, the marshal put to sea on the 14th November, when the wind had moderated, and the last great effort of the French to carry out the invasion began.

On the same date Hawke left Torbay to resume the blockade of Brest. On the 16th he was met by the news that the French had been seen twenty-four leagues to the north-west of Belleisle, steering to the south-east. There could be no doubt in Hawke’s mind that they were bound for Quiberon, and he instantly headed in pursuit. The news that the French were at sea spread rapidly over England, and produced an outburst of popular anger against Hawke, which gives the exact value of the most sweet voices of the mob. It ought to have rejoiced to hear that the enemy was out, and had only to look at the measures taken by Government to see that there was no peril. The troops and militia were put to some disturbance, which was unnecessary, save for the purpose of quieting the national nerves. A more rational measure was the formation of a reserve squadron of six ships of the line under Rear-Admiral Geary to reinforce Hawke. In these [188]days, too, Vice-Admiral Saunders reached the mouth of the Channel on his way back from the conquest of Quebec. He had but three liners with him, and they were much tried by service, yet without a moment’s hesitation he sailed to join the Channel Fleet. It is true that he did not arrive in time to be of service, but it was fine conduct, and an instance of the noble spirit now animating the navy which of itself was enough to calm all fears.

While the hubbub was raging at home, Hawke was straining to overtake Conflans. The wind between the 14th and the evening of the 19th November either fell calm or blew from the east, hampering both fleets. On the evening of the 19th it began to blow strong from the west, and there was every sign of a coming gale. Conflans was to the south-west of Belleisle, and Hawke behind him. Fearing that the force of the wind would cause him to make the land during the night, the French admiral carried little sail. Hawke, who was farther out, had less motive for caution, and was able to carry more sail than his opponent, thereby reducing the distance between them. When the late November daybreak came, this was the position; out at sea was Hawke with twenty-three sail of the line. Ahead of him, and just so far ahead of him as to be under the horizon line, was Conflans with twenty-one sail and five frigates or sloops. Both were flying before a rising gale from the W.N.W. and heading to enter Quiberon Bay by the passage between the Grands Cardinaux and the Plateau du Four. Ahead of Conflans was the Vengeance frigate of 28 guns, whose captain, Nightingale, was carrying all the sail he could bear, and was firing signal guns rapidly to warn Commodore Duff at anchor in Quiberon Bay that the French fleet was at hand. Duff at once ordered the cables to be cut and all speed to be made to sea, for there was not a moment to be lost if his little squadron was to escape from between the land and an overwhelming enemy. The surest road to safety was round the Pointe de Conguel, and through La Teignouse to the north of Belleisle. But to beat through that channel, all scarred as it is with rocks, in the face of a gale blowing right down from the W.N.W., was a feat which only one of his ships could achieve. The others were compelled to take [189]the frightfully perilous course of running down the east side of Belleisle and rounding it to the south. Every yard of the road brought them nearer to the French fleet, which was coming up from the west and south. It was a question of minutes whether Conflans’ ships would or would not cut the path of escape. Never since the fleet of Bazan was seen stretching across the roadstead of Flores in the Azores had an English squadron been in greater peril than Duff’s, and the men knew it well. Therefore it was that when the lookout-man at the masthead of the Rochester hailed to report that he saw Hawke’s sails to windward of the enemy, a wild shout of joy went up, and the men threw their hats into the sea at the French, in a horseplay of defiance. It was the gesture of the boxer or single-stick player at a country fair who gave a challenge. It was now about eight o’clock in the morning. The reader will bear in mind that Duff’s ships were just about to be pinned to the south coast of Belleisle, that the French ships were closing in on them from the sea, and that the topsails of Hawke were rising over the horizon against the grey November sky. The clouds were driving furiously overhead. The Norsemen, whose descendants were numerous in the English fleet, and not absent from the French, would have seen the Valkyries riding, and would have heard the voices of the “choosers of the slain.” Here is the list of the ships and the captains:—


The Royal George 100 Sir E. Hawke.
Capt. Campbell.
Union  90 Sir C. Hardy.
Capt. J. Evans.
Duke  90 T. Graves.
Namur  90 M. Buckle.
Mars  74 Commodore James Young.
Warspight  74 Sir John Bentley.
Hercules  74 E. Fortescue.
Torbay  74 Hon. A. Keppel.
Magnanime  74 Lord Howe.
Resolution  74 H. Speke.
Hero  74 Hon. G. Edgecumbe.
Swiftsure  70 Sir T. Stanhope.
Dorsetshire  70 P. Denis.
Burford  70 J. Gambier.
Chichester  70 E. S. Willet.
Temple  70 Hon. W. Shirley.
Revenge  64 J. Storr.
Essex  64 L. O’Brien.
Kingston  60 T. Shirley.
Intrepid  60 J. Maplesden.
Montagu  60 J. Rowley.
Dunkirk  60 R. Digby.
Defiance  60 P. Baird.
Duff’s Ships and the Frigates
Rochester  50 Capt. R. Duff.
Portland  50 M. Arbuthnot.
Falkland  50 Fr. S. Drake.
Chatham  50 J. Lockhart.
Minerva  32 A. Hood.
Venus  36 T. Harrison.
Vengeance  28 G. Nightingale.
Coventry  28 F. Burslem.
Maidstone  28 D. Diggs.
Sapphire  32 J. Strachan.



Soleil Royal 80 Conflans Capt. de Chézac.
Tonnant 80 Chevr. de Beauffremont, Chef d’escadre.
Formidable 80 Saint-André Duverger, Chef d’escadre.
Orient 80 Guébriant de Budez, Chef d’escadre.
Itrépide 74 Chasteloger.
Magnifique 74 Bigot de Morogues.
Glorieux 74 Villars de Labrosse.
Thésé 74 de Kersaint.
Héros 74 Vicomte de Sanzay.
Robuste 74 Marquis de Vienne.
Northumberland 74 Chevr. de Belingant.
Juste 70 Saint Allouarn.
Dauphin Royal 70 Vicomte d’Urtubie.
Inflexible 70 Chevr. de Caumont.
Dragon 70 Levassor de Latouche.
Eveillé 70 Chevr. de Laprévalais.
Sphinx 70 Chevr. de Coutance-Laselle
Solitaire 70 Vicomte de Langle.
Brilliant 70 Boischateau.
Bizarre 70 Chevr. de Rohan.
Frigates:—Vestale, Aigrette.
Corvettes:—Calypso, Prince Noir.

The first report that he was approaching the enemy was given to Hawke by the signal of the Maidstone at about half-past eight. But it was not until a quarter to ten that Howe in the Magnanime, who had been sent on to make the land and guide the fleet, was able to signal that the French fleet was ahead, and to report its force. Meanwhile the French admiral, who was at first incredulous of the approach of his opponent, had been convinced at last that the British fleet was indeed upon him, and had begun to collect his ships, which had been scattered in pursuit of Duff. He endeavoured to form a line, and appeared resolved to give battle. When Howe’s signal was seen, Hawke gave the order to form the line abreast, and for the heavy sailers which were lagging behind to set more sail and come up to his flag. As the British ships rose above the horizon both fleets were much scattered, and the admirals were endeavouring to bring them together. It was not a rapid process with sailing-ships, which could not spread much canvas in stormy weather. The whole forenoon slipped away before a shot could be fired, and all the vessels were still to the west and south of Belleisle at midday. Duff joined Hawke at eleven o’clock. The French admiral was now able to measure the strength of the force about to fall on him. He estimated it at thirty sail of the line, which even when the 50-gun ships of Commodore Duff were counted in was an exaggeration, only to be accounted for by fear, or by a dishonest wish to excuse the weakness of his conduct to his superiors. Losing [191]all confidence, Conflans decided not to give battle, but to make for Quiberon Bay. He therefore hoisted the signal for retreat, and set the example by leading the way in the Soleil Royal. He did not believe that Hawke would follow him into the narrow and broken waters of the bay, but he calculated that if the English admiral did take this bold course, he himself could work up towards the peninsula of Quiberon, and so gain the weather-gage and the advantage of position over an opponent embayed on a hostile and unfamiliar coast. This is what he said in his exculpatory dispatch, but it has much the look of an afterthought, and the probability is that Conflans really hoped to reach the enclosed waters of the Morbihan before being overtaken.

Had he been opposed to a commonplace officer, he would probably have succeeded. Hawke was too bold a man to turn his mind to considerations of superfluous prudence in the presence of an enemy who was manifestly seeking to avoid battle. The signal for the line abreast was hauled down and replaced by another, for the vessels nearest the French to pursue, to overtake, and to bring the enemy to action, and for all others to come on at their best speed, pressing into battle where and how they could. The two fleets swept on past Belleisle, rolling and pitching in the rising sea. It was shortly after two in the afternoon that the French admiral led his flying force round the Grands Cardinaux, and already the battle had begun with the ships behind him. The Warspight, Sir John Bentley, and the Dorsetshire, Captain P. Denis, were the first of the English ships to come up with and open fire on the enemy. They were soon joined by the Revenge, Magnanime, Torbay, Montagu, Resolution, Swiftsure, and Defiance. Thus, when the French ships ran between the Grands Cardinaux and Plateau du Four, all those at the end of their line were already mingled with their pursuers, and both the fleets came in together locked in a savage embrace of battle.

Never in the long history of war was the truth that the timid is also the dangerous course more convincingly shown than in this battle. As the English ships overtook the French, ranging up on both sides, they did not linger by the first they met, but pushed on ahead, leaving the work of destruction to be completed by their comrades [192]coming on behind. Thus the French rear ships were successively assailed by superior numbers firing into them from right and left. It must also be remembered that when the ships turned round Les Grands Cardinaux and headed to the north and north-west, they turned their left sides to the wind and were pressed over to the right. The slope, or list, given to them was so great that it was impossible to open the ports of the lowest tier of guns on the lee side. When any English captain came up on the lee side of a Frenchman, he himself had the full use of his weather battery, while his opponent could not fire his heaviest and most effective tier of guns. Conflans, in fact, had so managed matters that he gave Hawke’s superiority of numbers an effect it could not have had if the French fleet had accepted battle outside Belleisle, in good order, and in a united body. The rear of his line was miserably crushed. The Formidable, 80, the flagship of the Chef d’Escadre Saint-André Duverger, was shattered to pieces by our fire. Duverger himself and 200 of his men were slain, and his ship surrendered. The Thésée, 74, filled and went down with all hands, unquestionably because her captain, M. de Kersaint, opened his lower deck ports to fire and allowed the water to rush in. Keppel on the Torbay all but incurred the same fate by running the same hazard, but his ship freed herself of the water in time.

A detailed description of the battle is an impossibility. The wind shifted suddenly from W.N.W. to N.N.W., and increased in violence as it travelled round, adding to the already frightful confusion of the forty and odd great ships manœuvring in the confined triangle of water bounded by the coast and the islands. The sea was heaving underfoot, driven in great waves before the wind, and dragged seaward by the ebb. The storm howled through the rigging. The ships under reduced canvas made short tacks to avoid the rocks all around. Conflans, after stretching up to Quiberon Bay, turned back to the help of the ships behind him, and the two fleets were mingled in a wild whirl of storm and battle. Collisions were incessant between enemies and friends, but the English, as being the more practised seamen, avoided them better, and suffered from them less. To the French admiral it suggested itself as a possibility that he might fight his way out again, [193]and get once more to windward of Belleisle. Signals followed one another rapidly from the Soleil Royal, but they were not, and they could not be obeyed. The rolling of the ships rendered their fire ineffective, and the danger of wreck compelled the captains to think constantly of the safety of their vessels. Sunset, too, came early, and the dark put a stop to all manœuvring. Thus there was neither time nor opportunity to take many prizes. One other French ship, the Superbe, shared the fate of the Thésée, and the Héros, dismasted and riddled by the English fire, hauled down her flag and dropped anchor. But the enemy was none the less completely beaten. Seven of his ships found refuge in the Vilaine by grovelling over the mud bar of the river. Others fled down the coast to the south, where one of them, the Juste, was stranded near St. Nazaire. Her first and second captains, the brothers Allouar, had both fallen. Conflans himself ran inside the Point du Four, and anchored off Croisic. When darkness came down, Hawke made the signal to anchor. It was, according to the code of the time, two guns fired to leeward, and was naturally not distinguished while cannon were being fired on all sides. Several of the English ships kept under way all night, but most anchored between the Grands Cardinaux and the little island of Dumet, which lies to north-east towards the mouth of the Vilaine. Two English ships, the Essex and the Resolution, were lost on the Four in the dark. The captain of the Héros finding that he was not boarded by an English prize crew, took advantage of the darkness to cut his cables and allow his vessel to drive ashore near Croisic, when Conflans had anchored in the Soleil Royal. In the morning the admiral found himself alone, with the bulk of Hawke’s fleet at anchor a few miles off. Hopeless of escape, he ran his flagship ashore to prevent her from falling into our hands.

Judged by the fighting alone, the battle of Quiberon was less arduous than many we have fought with the French and all we have fought with the Dutch. But the fighting was in this case the least of the battle. It stands in the first rank, if not at the head of all the heroisms of the fleet, because it was won over the storm, the sea, and the rocks, as well as over man. The boldness of Hawke in flying at his enemy before his own force was thoroughly united, and the magnificent seamanship [194]of his captains in circumstances of unparalleled difficulty set this battle apart. Although the French had but one vessel taken and five destroyed, they were utterly routed. The seven ships which fled into the Vilaine were lost for all practical purposes, and the spirit of their navy was broken for the rest of the war. There is a legend which tells how the sailing master of the Royal George expostulated when ordered to take the ship among the rocks of Quiberon, and how Hawke answered that his subordinate had done his duty by pointing out the danger and was now to obey the order. If this story has not an actual, it has a mythical, truth. What gives its peculiar character to Hawke’s victory at Quiberon was its magnificent military quality. To the mere seaman there was something like madness in rushing just before dark into the most frightful of the possible perils of navigation. But the admiral, though a finished seaman, was also a great fighting leader, and to him the occasion seemed one on which to use his skill, not to avoid but to incur dangers, for a great purpose. Nothing equal in conduct will be met for twenty-two years, and until we come to Hood’s fine, though unsuccessful effort to save the island of St. Kitts from the Comte de Grasse. Indeed the whole passage of the blockade of Brest and the battle of Quiberon was without precedent in the history of the navy, and without an equal successor for forty years. The tenacity with which the fleet kept its watch into the stormy winter months would have appeared the excess of temerity to the naval officers of former times, who thought it dangerous to leave the great ships at sea after September. What also was without precedent was the success with which the crews were kept in health by the determination of the admiral that they should be regularly supplied with fresh meat and wholesome beer. After Quiberon the stormy weather made the service of the victuallers difficult, and there was a change for the worse which is recorded in the navy’s one contribution to epigrammatic literature—

“Ere Hawke did bang
Monsieur Conflans
You sent us beef and beer;
Now Monsieur’s beat
We’ve nought to eat
Since you have nought to fear.”


It adds a grace to the heroic figure of Hawke that he was tender of the lives and of the health of his men. But his good sense taught him that sickly crews must needs make a crippled fleet.

The history of the invasion year may be concluded with a brief notice of the fate of Thurot. He escaped from Dunkirk with five ships on the 17th October, and made his way to the coast of Norway. From thence he came down to the Hebrides early in 1760. Two of his vessels were disabled by weather at different times and left him. On the 20th February he appeared off Carrickfergus in the north of Ireland, and took the place. On the 28th of the same month Captain Elliot of the Eolus, with two other frigates, fell in with the three Frenchmen and took them after a sharp fight, in which Thurot, a brave humane man worthy of a better service and a better fate, lost his life. And so went out the last spark of the French scheme for the destruction of England.

When darkness closed down on the Bay of Quiberon on the 20th November, the great operations of naval warfare came to an end, for there was no longer any fleet to meet ours at sea. The navy had duty to do both during 1759 and afterwards in co-operating with the army in the conquest of French possessions. But its work, however indispensable, was ancillary, and a repetition of the same tale with the same moral would be tedious. I shall therefore, as in the case of the operations of the reigns of King William and Queen Anne, simply give a list of the expeditions.

Expedition. When Begun. When Ended.
Commodore Moore and Major-General Hopson attack Martinique unsuccessfully, and Guadaloupe successfully. The arrival of Bompart’s squadron compelled Moore to concentrate his ships, which gave the French privateers an opportunity to do considerable injury to our trade. Their activity confirmed the British Government in its intention to deprive them of their ports of supply by taking all the French islands. No action took place with Bompart. End of November 1758 May 1759.
[196] Vice-Admiral Saunders and Wolfe sail from Spithead, pick up the ships left on the American coast, and take Quebec on the 17th August. Saunders sailed for home two months later. 17th February 1759. 18th October 1759.
Commodore Keppel and Major-General Hodgson take Belleisle. 29th March 1761. 7th June 1761.
Commodore Sir James Douglas and Lord Rollo take Dominica in the Antilles. They sailed from Guadaloupe. 4th June 1761. 8th June 1761.
Rear-Admiral Rodney and Major-General Monckton complete the conquest of the French settlements in the West Indies, except those in Hayti. 8th January 1762. 26th February 1762.
After Spain had joined France, a great combined expedition under Sir G. Pocock, with Lord Albemarle as General, sailed from home, and, after collecting forces in the West Indies, took Havana. 5th March 1762. 11th August 1762.
In the East Indies Admiral Cornish and Colonel Draper took Manila. 1st August 1762. 6th October 1762.

While the campaigns of 1758 and 1759 were being fought out in Europe and America, the rivalry between France and England in the Eastern Seas was decided to our advantage. In this struggle the navy played a very essential part. The scene of its labours and final triumph, was on the eastern or Coromandel coast of the Indian Peninsula. Here the course of the war was dictated to a very large extent by certain physical conditions. From March to October is the season of the S.W. or rainy monsoon. Then the wind is favourable to all ships entering the Bay of Bengal. It blows away from the land and renders the coast safe. Immediately under the land, however, there is a belt of water subject to variable winds, which blow alternately on to the land from the S.E. and off it from the S. or W. When the wind is from the S.E. the sea becomes rough, and the coast, being very ill provided with harbours, is dangerous. All currents during this season flow strongly to the north. Thus the tendency of wind and water alike is to carry all ships into the Bay, and to make the Coromandel [197]coast safe. After October and till the end of February comes the season of the N.E. monsoon, which, blowing on to the land, makes a rough sea and a dangerous coast, and also tends to blow all ships out of the Bay of Bengal. Thus in the ordinary course of trade vessels would come in with the S.W. monsoon, and arrange to start so as to get the help of the N.E. monsoon on their homeward voyage. Thus too the period of operation for fighting fleets would be during the S.W. monsoon, since at that time the coast was safe, and both sides would take the opportunity to send out reinforcements to its garrisons on shore, while its commerce would be coming in at the beginning and going out at the end of the period. With the N.E. monsoon all sails disappeared from the Bay of Bengal—those of commerce on their homeward voyage, those of war to their respective ports, which for the French meant the island of Mauritius, and for the English, Bombay on the western or Malabar coast. Here, as in Europe, we had an advantage of position. The Malabar coast is nearer the Coromandel than is the Mauritius, and therefore the British squadron, when directed with common energy, could always be at the scene of operations before its opponent, and could be placed so as to intercept all French forces on their way to Pondicherry.

Mention has already been made of the co-operation of Admiral Watson and Clive in the suppression of Geriah early in 1756. They reached Madras on the 20th June, one day before the taking of Calcutta by Suraj-ud-Daulah and the tragedy of the Black Hole. The vengeance for this outrage is one of the most famous stories in our history. But it belongs to the history of the East India Company rather than to that of the navy. Against an enemy who possessed no ships, the fleet could only act by providing for the transport of troops, covering their landing, attacking forts on the coast, and landing stores or naval brigades. Admiral Watson did his share in the work actively in the early months of 1757, and he was passively consenting to the fraud by which his name was forged for the purpose of cheating Omichand. A small naval brigade shared in the battle of Plassey. In any case the sudden extension of British power which came out of the overthrow of Suraj-ud-Daulah, [198]would probably have led to a renewal of the conflict with the French Company, but hostilities were precipitated by the European and American quarrels of the two countries. In March 1757 the French fort at Chandernagore, just above Calcutta, was occupied after a sharp fight, in the midst of the complicated negotiations and conflicts with the Nabob of Bengal. Admiral Watson did not live to take part in the naval conflict with the French, but died in September of 1757. He was succeeded by Rear-Admiral George Pocock, to whom it fell to command at sea in the decisive struggle for supremacy in India.

No attempt will be made here to describe the series of battles fought during 1758 and 1759. These actions present little more than a weary repetition of examples of the working of the pedantic Fighting Instructions. Though Pocock was unquestionably a man of great energy, strong mind, and the utmost zeal for the service, he wanted the originality and independence of intellect to break away from the traditional method. Thus action after action presents the same monotonous picture. The British squadron works to windward to secure the power to force on battle, and comes down in line to engage the enemy from end to end. The French wait for the attack, fire to cripple the rigging of those of our vessels which present themselves first to its blows, and then slip away, damaged more or less severely, but never so seriously that they cannot reach the port they are steering for, while our crews are knotting, splicing, and replacing ropes and spars. It was by no single well-delivered blow, by no telling victory that we finally forced our opponent out of the Indian Seas, but by persistence, by a better average of practical seamanship, by the possession of greater resources—by, as it were, slowly pushing him in front of us as by a steady application of weight.

The conflict on the sea blazed up in 1758. The French Government had realised the necessity for making an effort to preserve its East Indian possessions in 1757. A squadron was fitted out at Brest under M. D’Aché, and sailed on the 6th March. It was driven back by bad weather, and two of the vessels belonging to it were taken to serve in America with M. Dubois de Lamotte. On the 4th May M. D’Aché sailed again with one king’s ship and five belonging to the [199]Company, carrying with him a body of troops under the headlong and passionate Lally, the most unhappy and one of the least wise of the Irishmen who have been the enemies to this country. The dates of D’Aché’s cruise illustrate the slow progress of fleets at that time. He reached Rio on the 23rd July, and remained there for two months to recruit the health of his crews—no unusual stoppage in the Indian voyages of the period. He reached the Île de France on the 28th December, and sailed for India on the 27th January 1758. On the 26th April he reached the coast of Coromandel—little less than a year after he had left Brest. While D’Aché was slowly sailing to the East, Pocock had been reinforced in March by Commodore Charles Stevens, and his squadrons had been raised to seven vessels of from fifty to sixty-four guns. He knew that a French force was on its way and must be now approaching the coast of Coromandel. On the 17th April he sailed from Madras and worked to the southward in search of the enemy, but did not succeed in meeting him. D’Aché had passed unseen and had anchored at Carical, a French post to the south of the English station of Cuddalore, which is to the south of Pondicherry. Pondicherry itself is well to the south of Madras. The French officer had with him eight vessels—for he had found some at the Île de France—one more than Pocock, but only his flagship the Zodiaque, 74, was a warship. The other seven were vessels belonging to the French East India Company, were built for trade as well as fighting, and even if they carried their full nominal armaments of forty-four, fifty, or fifty-four guns, inferior in solidity to Pocock’s. The one ship more of the French would barely put them on an equality with our squadron.

From Carical D’Aché sent on Lally to assume his government at Pondicherry, and he himself struck at the English station of Cuddalore. He had the good fortune to cut off two small vessels, the Triton and Bridgewater, which were driven ashore under the citadel of the place, Fort St. David. Meanwhile Pocock was coming back from his unsuccessful cruise to the South. On the 29th April the two fleets sighted one another, and a confused action ensued. The dull rules of the Fighting Instructions were badly executed by some of Pocock’s captains, and one of D’Aché’s officers showed [200]downright cowardice. After the usual cannonade the two fleets separated in the customary respective conditions of British and French squadrons after an action fought according to rule. The French, whose ships were crowded with Lally’s soldiers, had a heavy list of killed and wounded, because we preferred to fire at our enemy’s hull. In the British squadron several vessels were so crippled in their rigging as to be unmanageable. D’Aché anchored at Alamparva, north of Pondicherry, where one of his vessels became a wreck in the surf. Pocock went on to Madras to refit and bring three of his captains to court martial. One was dismissed the service, and the other two sentenced to lesser penalties. The incident is an example of that wholesome severity which, by assigning to every man a definite responsibility and calling on him to answer for every failure, has established the magnificent discipline of the Royal Navy, and has been the austere parent of its splendid efficiency.

From Alamparva D’Aché went to Pondicherry and landed his soldiers and his numerous sick and wounded. At the close of May Pocock appeared off the port. The French Admiral, whose squadron was ill fitted, had recourse to every device to avoid action, and all the rabid driving of Lally could not make him incur risks. As the authorities at Madras were rendered nervous for their safety by the strength of the French military force they recalled Pocock, and thus enabled D’Aché to co-operate with Lally in the capture of Fort St. David in June. In July, however, the admiral was back off Pondicherry seeking battle. D’Aché would fain have avoided a meeting and have returned at once to the Île de France. Prayers and threats from the authorities and Lally induced him to stay, and to play a game of hide-and-seek in the calms and varying inshore winds of the coast. On the 3rd August, after infinite confusing movements and varying breezes, another barren cannonade took place off Negapatam. Again both admirals anchored, Pocock at Carical and D’Aché at Pondicherry. On the 3rd September the Frenchman sailed for the Île de France, and the sea being now clear of enemies, Pocock went round to Bombay to avoid the storms of the north-easterly monsoon.

This campaign has certain features of interest. Though Pocock’s arms were tied by the Fighting Instructions, he [201]showed a vigour in attack and a persistency of effort which promised final victory over his timid opponent. But the working of those instructions is full of warning. It has been ingeniously argued by the late Admiral Colomb that the presence of an effective naval force, for which he invented—or to which he adapted—the name of “Fleet in Being,” on a given coast will of itself so act as to stop all operations against that coast on the part of an enemy. Yet in this case, though the British squadron was at least a full match for the French, and Pocock’s will to strike was of the best, we see that he failed both to prevent D’Aché from landing soldiers at Pondicherry and from co-operating in the taking of Cuddalore. He failed partly because of the timidity of the Council which called him back to Madras, but mainly because he was tied by formal rules of battle which did not allow him to develop freely the whole strength of his command. Had he been free to take his fleet always where he thought best, and to use it unbound by foolish laws, had he been one of those great and original captains who have the moral and intellectual courage to break away from worn-out traditions, there can be no doubt that his campaign of 1758 on the coast of Coromandel would have been marked by a decisive battle. It might well have been far more costly than the two engagements actually fought, but we may assert, without undue patriotic confidence in our own navy, that it would have broken the French naval forces in those seas to pieces. As it was, the balance of advantage was rather with the French than with us. The moral of the story is surely, that it is not enough for a fleet to be “in being” if it is not also in action, and that there is but little use in action which is not allowed to drive its blows home to the heart.

The operations of 1759 bear some likeness to those of the previous year, but with a marked difference. Our squadron well supplied, strictly disciplined, grew in strength, efficiency, and confidence. D’Aché was joined at the Île de France by ships of the navy from Europe commanded by Froger de l’Eguille, who had taken part in the action with Byng. But his very numbers were an embarrassment to him. The French islands were too poor to feed the crews of the squadron. They were only kept from starvation by sending some of the ships to [202]buy food at a great cost from the Dutch at the Cape of Good Hope, and others to live from hand to mouth on the coast of Madagascar. Stores were almost wholly wanting, and the work of refitting the vessels was either not done at all, or was done by sacrificing one necessary to serve as makeshift for another. It is therefore not surprising that whereas Pocock was back from the Malabar coast and was cruising in the Bay of Bengal in April, D’Aché was unable to leave the islands till the middle of July. He was near Batacaloa on the east coast of Ceylon at the end of August. He had eleven ships to Pocock’s eight, but many were weak, all were badly fitted, and there was little heart or confidence in officers or men. To a large extent his crews were natives. The utmost he felt able to do was to carry some reinforcements to Pondicherry, and his ambition did not reach beyond effecting this service without being brought to battle if he could. When then he was sighted by Pocock on the coast of Ceylon, he applied himself to slipping away and succeeded. The British admiral, having lost sight of him, hastened to cut his road at Pondicherry, and another scene of cannonading, of damaged rigging for us, and of final escape for the French, took place on the 10th September. D’Aché reached Pondicherry while our ropes and spars were being repaired at Negapatam. During the rest of the month the British admiral made successive attempts to provoke his opponent to battle. The furious Lally, whose one idea of government was to lay about him with a flail, strove hard to get service out of his naval colleague. But D’Aché, who was deep in the ruinous intrigues of the French settlement, would do nothing. He would not even stay on the coast though prayed to do so by his countrymen. His officers were as eager to be gone as himself. At the end of September he sailed for the islands, and the French flag disappeared from those seas. When his opponent was gone Pocock went round to Bombay. From thence he sailed for home with a great convoy, and arrived on the 22nd September. The naval war was at an end in the East Indies by the utter collapse of the French. Their possessions being cut off from help, fell before the superior forces of the English company.

Pocock was rewarded by the immensely lucrative command of the fleet which sailed in the combined expedition against [203]Havana in 1762, when Spain, in a moment of Royal folly, was dragged into the war against us. On that enterprise and of the contemporaneous expedition which Pocock’s successor in the East Indies command, Cornish, led against Manila, no more will be said here than that they were marked by a loyalty of co-operation between sailor and soldier which was then a novelty.



Authorities.—See authorities for previous years; Mundy’s Life and Correspondence of Lord Rodney; Barrow’s Life of Howe; Chevalier, Histoire de la Marine Française pendant la guerre d’independence Americaine; Parliamentary History; Annual Register.

The interval of fifteen years which separates the end of the Seven Years’ War from the beginning of the American War in 1778 saw no change in the organisation of the navy. An improvement in their half pay was given to the captains in 1773. In 1715 the right to enjoy half pay when not on active service, which had hitherto been limited to twenty-five officers of this rank, was extended to all. The amount had come to appear insufficient by 1773, and the captains petitioned Parliament for relief. Their case was stated by Howe, who was then member for Dartmouth. Lord North, the Prime Minister, began by opposing the motion, on the ground that it affected the revenue, and ought therefore to have been made by a minister. But the sympathy of the house was with Howe and his clients. A committee of inquiry was appointed, and on its report Parliament decided that the increase ought to be granted. A sum of £7000 was finally voted, and the scale of half pay was fixed at 10s. a day for 50 captains, 8s. for 30, and 6s. for all the others, in their order of seniority. Howe and the more fortunate naval officers, who were members of the House of Commons and who gave him support, acted an honourable part on behalf of their brothers in arms. They would have done still better if they had gone on to represent the far more cruel grievances of the men. Had they acted with spirit for those fellow-seamen who did not belong to their own class, they might have secured a hearing, and have saved the navy from the long list of mutinies which were to disgrace the coming war. But so [205]much magnanimity and foresight was perhaps not to be expected in those years of the eighteenth century. Nothing was done for the sailors. The isolated mutinies were sometimes suppressed with severity, but were sometimes concealed from public knowledge, and condoned. A long course of neglect and weakness, with now and then a spasm of ferocity, bore its natural fruit in the combined mutiny at Spithead in 1797.

The discipline of the navy continued to benefit by the admirable work done in the Seven Years’ War by the great chiefs and the less famous officers whom they inspired. Their influence and example went on bearing good fruit, and have indeed never ceased to be felt, but have been carried from one generation to another of their successors. Remote from the corruption of the dockyards and the fury of political factions on shore, on solitary voyages, in long cruises, in blockades, in battle and storm, the admirals and captains who were trained in the schools of Anson and Hawke, Pocock and Boscawen, and were themselves to train the admirals and captains of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, went on perfecting the seamanship and fighting efficiency of the fleet. An anonymous officer, who wrote in 1788, could declare in answer to those who boasted of the ancient discipline of the navy, that “if we compare the past practices and methods, as they have been explained to us thirty years ago by old seamen in the service, with the present, we shall find, that in no one thing under the British Government has there been so much improvement as in the art of fighting, sailing, and navigating a British ship of War.” The reason he gives is full of instruction, and deserves to be quoted at length:—

“The old method of enforcing discipline was without method, by main strength and the frequent use of the rattan, without which no officer, from the captain down to the youngest midshipman, ever went upon deck. Even twenty years ago there was much of this discipline (if it can be called by the name) remaining in the service. Last war [i.e. between 1778 and 1783] there is no doubt that the internal discipline of His Majesty’s ships in general was brought to as great a degree of perfection, almost, as it is capable of receiving; I say in general. There were indeed exceptions; but in [206]captains bigoted to the old customs, and whose ships might always be distinguished by their awkwardness and inactivity and by the indifferent figure they cut in action, though commanded with bravery. This general improvement proceeded from a method adopted in every branch of an officer’s and sailor’s duty, by dividing and quartering the officers with the men, and making them responsible for the performance of that portion of the duty allotted them, without noise, or the brutal method of driving sailors like cattle with sticks. Whether it were to make or shorten sail, to manœuvre the ship, to keep the men clean clothed, clean bedded, and berthed, this method was practised.”

The writer attributes the efficiency of the crews and the good health they enjoyed even in the West Indies, while under the command of Rodney and Hood, to this more humane and intelligent system. He claims that there were cases when out of twenty-two sail of the line cruising together, there were not twenty-two men who could not come to quarters. The reader who compares this with the terrible ravages made by fever and scurvy in the naval expeditions of Queen Anne’s reign and the beginning of the Seven Years’ War will see how vast had been the change for the better. The example of Captain Cook and the exertions of Rodney’s doctor, Gilbert Blane, brought about improvements in the diet of the men which saved thousands for the service of their country, who would have been thrown to the sharks in former times. All this reform was the spontaneous work of the navy. There was so little about it of Admiralty system that no universal system of quartering men and dividing work was established till far into the nineteenth century. Captains followed the practice of the officers under whom they had first served, with improvements of their own. The perfected discipline of the navy was the result of the labours of hundreds of officers, many of whom are completely forgotten, thinking, experimenting, and toiling, each in his own sphere, but all with the same noble love of good work. Therefore it had, and has, a grand life of its own, incomparably higher, and far more enduring than the mechanical order enforced by a minister or king. “It is the service” was the most emphatic praise a naval officer could give, and “It is [207]not the service” his most severe condemnation. “The Service” was the formula standing for that combination of smartness, of cleanliness, of precision of movement, of exactness of stroke, of resolution to endure, and of intrepidity to venture, which is the glory of the navy, its strength, and the real explanation of its triumphs. It is of this too that the nation has the best reason to be proud. There is something rather servile and more than rather blind in the habit of attributing all success to the commander. In the long run the Roman Legion will wear down Hannibal, and it is a greater feat for any people to produce the organism which is animated by the virtue of tens of thousands of its sons, than the exceptional leader, whose genius does not always last even for the whole of his own life. We do well to put up monuments to Nelson, and it would be to our honour to remember other admirals more fully than we do. The navy itself is the living memorial raised to the generation of forgotten men whose names have passed into forgetfulness, but whose work lives to this day on the quarter-decks and forecastles of every ship flying the cross of St. George.

While the seamen were steadily perfecting the discipline of the navy, their rulers on shore were allowing the administration to drift back to the corruptions of Walpole’s time. The cause of this unhappy reaction is easily stated. George III. came to the throne with the determination to be king. This meant that he would not consent to be a puppet in the hands of the Whig oligarchy of Revolution families, who had dominated his grandfather. He could not crush them by the use of force, and was consequently compelled to fight them with their own weapons, which were interest and corruption. Interest meant that he bought the obedience of Members of the House of Commons by bribery. Every branch of the public service, and the Royal Household also, suffered because places were given to buy votes, and no reform could be effected without losing the support of members of Parliament who profited by the abuse. The evil was particularly bad in the navy. Parliamentary boroughs and dockyard seats were regularly filled with henchmen of the king’s ministers, on the understanding that they gave their help to suppress inquiry. Money voted with a great appearance of precision for specific [208]purposes was not applied to the ends for which it was in theory granted. What became of it nobody was ever able to discover. On paper the system of accounts was so rigid that fraud might have appeared to be impossible, but its very severity made it cumbersome, and the men in office were not even honest. When taxed with misuse of the nation’s money they were in the habit of boasting that they did not take it for themselves. It is probable that they did not put it directly into their own pockets, but their defence was sophistical. Corruption was needed to keep them in place—and place was lucrative. Every department had its own treasury. The money paid out by the Exchequer was put to the account of the minister. The bankers paid interest on it, and this interest was the perquisite of the members of the ministry. It was their interest to delay payments and conceal the actual use made of the funds. Brougham repeats a story which illustrates the spirit of the politicians of that generation. When Lord North was appointed Paymaster of the Forces he found that he had to divide the emoluments with another politician. His disgust was great, and he revenged himself by a characteristic jest. A dog made a mess in the passage outside his room. Lord North sent for one of the servants, ordered him to carry the offensive matter away, and take care that his colleague received his due share, for said he, “Mr. Cooke is to have half of everything that comes into the office.”

When the war with France came in 1778 the mischief had been in full swing for seven years under the administration of Lord Sandwich, which began in 1771. During that period he had received for the building and equipping of the navy £6,472,072, besides large sums charged on the debt. This was nearly twice as much as had been voted between 1755 and 1762, and considerably more than a million beyond the votes of 1763 to 1771. These sums did not cover the whole expense of maintaining the navy. The supplies were voted under three heads. There was the Ordinary of the Navy, which meant the maintenance of the dockyards, care of the ships not in commission, and half pay. Then there was the Extraordinary of the navy, the “building, rebuilding, and repairs” and all “extra works over and above what was meant to be done upon the heads of wear and tear in ordinary.” [209]The third vote was for so many men at £4 a head per month of twenty-eight days. Of this sum £1, 16s. was for wages of all ranks, 19s. for rations, and the balance covered current expenses in replacing rigging and ammunition. This was naturally the largest sum of all. The votes for 1779 for example were respectively: for the Ordinary, £369,882, 6s. 1d.; for the Extraordinary, £579,187; and for 70,000 men “for 13 months, including ordnance,” £3,640,000. The £6,472,072 supplied to Sandwich between 1771 and 1778 did not include the vote for men. Though the sum was so considerable, the Admiralty was unable to find fifty line-of-battle ships for sea in the summer of 1778.

Why so much money produced such unsatisfactory results was well shown in the course of a discussion in the Commons on the 13th January of this year. Mr. Temple Luttrell quoted figures to show that as much had been voted for the repairs of the Namur, the Defence, and the Arrogant, as would have built them new from the keel at the most extravagant rate. Yet they were not fit for service. An even more scandalous case was that of the Dragon, 74. She had been launched in 1760 in the heat of the Seven Years’ War, and was one of the vessels then hastily constructed of green timber to meet a pressing need. They were rotten by 1771, and Sandwich was in the habit of taking credit to himself for his exertion to replace them by better ships. What had happened with the Dragon was this—that between 1771 and 1778 the Admiralty came to Parliament for successive sums, amounting to £27,000, for her repairs, and £10,273 for her stores. Yet in the latter year she was notoriously lying in a rotten state at the head of Portsmouth Harbour, and not one penny of this money had ever been spent upon her. The facts were not disputed. All that the Sea Lords, who answered for the Admiralty, could say was, that they had not pilfered the money themselves, and that this sort of thing had always been done. The answer was, that it was directly contrary to the representation of the House of Commons in 1711. It was on this occasion that Burke threw the book of the estimates across the Speaker’s table, knocking over a candle, and all but breaking the shins of the Treasurer of the Navy, Welbore Ellis. He said, that it was “treating the House with the utmost contempt, to [210]present them with a fine gilt book of estimates, calculated to the last farthing, for purposes to which the money granted was never meant to be applied.” Burke was right, but the Whig Opposition had done nothing to amend the evil in its days of power, and had little right to take a lofty moral line with its successors. Contempt was the exact word for the attitude taken towards all criticism by Sir Hugh Palliser and Lord Mulgrave, the naval representatives of the Admiralty in the Lower House. Palliser was arrogant and laconic, lying as to the state of the fleet with a burly assurance. Lord Mulgrave, the Irish peer, better remembered as the Captain Constantine Phipps, with whom Nelson made his early voyage to Spitzbergen, was fluent, jocular, and insolent. A docile majority supported them by voting “the previous question” as the most convenient way of stifling inquiry.

Indignant contemporary critics declared that accounts made in this fashion were in fact deliberately designed to “envelope in utter darkness the true appropriation of the immense sums they (the Ministers to wit) extort thereupon from the public.” The respective shares of deliberate design and mere convenient use and wont in producing the disorder present a nice question. What is beyond dispute is, that when the gilt book of the estimates showed the expenditure of such and such sums for repairs and stores, and when the money was devoted to other purposes, and the vessels named were lying rotten and unfit for sea, it must have been impossible even for the best informed officials to know the effective strength of the navy. Indeed, nothing is more difficult than to find what was the real available force of the fleet at this crisis. The common printed authorities, Beatson’s Naval and Military Memoirs, Schomberg’s Chronicle, and Derrick’s Memoirs of the Royal Navy (all good books in their different ways), contradict one another. It is only natural they should, for there were no accurate sources of information. It was not till 1773 that the Admiralty itself began to try to take stock of its vessels. In that year it was ordered that a return, to be known as the “Progress of the Dockyards,” should be made every week, showing what ships of all classes were under the care of the officials. There was also a monthly list of ships in full sea pay. It ought to have been possible to make an exact return of the [211]strength of the navy by adding the one to the other. But these papers were avowedly untrustworthy. A ship in full sea pay, or commission, might go into the dockyard for repairs. She would then appear in the Weekly Progresses, and if the totals alone were looked to, she would be counted twice. Then a vessel was considered to be in full sea pay when her captain was appointed, but months might pass before he joined her, and in the meantime she lay unmanned. So she, again, would be included twice. The Weekly Progresses were drawn up by the clerks of the Navy Office, and the monthly lists by the Admiralty officials. They were independent and might not agree. Some allowance must be made for mere blunders. It is obvious, too, that the dockyards returned such rotten hulks as H.M.S. Dragon among the ships under their charge, while the fact that a man-of-war was in full sea pay hardly established a presumption that she was manned, rigged, or as much as in good repair. These official papers are therefore but blind guides. When the great reform of the navy administration was begun in the early years of the nineteenth century, a manuscript book called the “Progress of the Navy from 1765 to 1806” was compiled in the Admiralty. The author warns all who may use it that his sources were untrustworthy, but he professes to have done his best to get at the truth and to have made the necessary deductions. It may be accepted as giving the nearest attainable approach to an exact statement of the paper strength of the navy during the years which it covers.

According to this authority, the total nominal force of the Royal Navy in January 1778 was 399 vessels, of which 274 were in full sea pay, or commission, while 125 were in ordinary, or reserve. The usual phrase of the time was “lying by the walls”—that is to say, in the dockyards. The advance during the war will be seen from the following list:—

Vessels in Full Sea Pay. Total of all Vessels.
1st January 1778 274 399
  〃        〃       1779 317 432
  〃        〃       1780 364 481
  〃        〃       1781 396 538
  〃        〃       1782 398 551
  〃        〃       1783 430 608

[212] This, however, is paper strength. It includes battered hulks fit only for harbour duty, prizes needing a refit, yachts and ships building. Even at the very end of the war such authorities as Keppel and Howe could not agree as to the number of vessels really available for service. Ships were put into commission simply in order to please supporters by conferring professional favours on them, their relations, or clients. A great display of pennants might be made by this device, but it was a show out of all proportion to the effective strength. Then, as in much later times, it was the dishonest official practice to include vessels building in the list of the navy. Thus, in the last year of the war, it was said that we had four first-rates of 100 guns. In reality there had been three, which were reduced to two by the sinking of the Royal George at Spithead. Another was ordered to replace her, and a fourth, the Queen Charlotte, which afterwards carried Howe’s flag on the 1st June, was also begun. They were not ready for years, but they were counted in to make up the tale of four.

Where our evidence is confessedly not sound, it is idle to make confident assertions about the strength of the fleet. But the sea pay lists represent what was the utmost claimed by the Government as ready for immediate service. The figures for the beginning and the end of 1778 will show what was the disposition of the fleet, and also what was the first effect of the outbreak of hostilities with France.

January 1778. December 1778.
Station. Number. Station. Number.
East Indies 6 East Indies 5
Jamaica 22 Jamaica 21
Leeward Islands. 19 Leeward Islands 10
North America 92 North America 85
Mediterranean 6 Mediterranean 5
Newfoundland 13 Newfoundland 15
Convoy and Cruising 22 Convoy and Cruising 36
Ships at home 94 Ships at home 97
—— Western Squadron 43
274 ——

The difference between the two lists is partly accounted for by transfer of vessels from one station, or duty, to another. [213]The high figure of the North American station came from the use of numbers of small craft to co-operate with the troops employed against the insurgents from 1775 onwards. In the main, however, the second list differs from the first by the addition of the Western Squadron—that is, the great force of battleships collected under Keppel to meet the French at Brest.

It will be seen that there is an increase in the vessels employed on “Convoy and Cruising.” We tell only half the service of a navy in war when we confine ourselves to the movements of the squadrons and the battles. The other half consists in the patrol duty done to protect trade and keep down the enemy’s attacks on commerce. To explain it by narrative would be tedious and confusing to the reader, but the following list of the warships of various classes employed in this way at and about home when the war began will help the reader to realise how the duty was provided for:—


Ship. Guns. Disposition.
Thetis 32 To come to Plymouth. } Channel Islands.
Actæon 44         〃         Spithead. }
Seaford 20         〃         Falmouth. }
Hyæna 20         〃         Spithead. }
Cygnet 16 } To the Downs.
Grasshopper 14 }
Pheasant  8 }
Boston 28 To cruise between Belfast Lough and the Mull of Cantyre.
Stag 28 To cruise in the Irish Channel.
Squirrel 20 To cruise between the Dodman and the Land’s End.
Harpy 18 } To convoy the trade from Ireland to England.
Wolf  8 }
Wasp  8 At Plymouth.
Beaver’s Prize 14 To cruise between Flambro’ Head and Yarmouth.
Merchant A. S. 20 } To cruise from Flambro’ Head to Shields.
Content A. S. 20 }
Queen A. S. 20 North Shields.
Heart of Oak A. S. 20 Liverpool.
Three Sisters A. S. 20 } Leith.
Leith A. S. 20 }
Three Brothers A. S. 20 Bristol.
Satisfaction A. S. 20 Greenock.
Cutter Meredith 6·10 To cruise from Beachy Head to Portland.
Cutter Sherburne 6·8 To cruise from Portland to Ram Head.


Ship. Guns. Disposition.
Belleisle 64 To proceed to St. Helena to convoy the East India trade home.
Jupiter 50 } To cruise on coast of Spain and Portugal till the 20th October, and return with the trade.
Medea 28 }
Warwick 50 To convoy the trade to Canada from Cork, and return to Spithead.
Chatham 50 } To cruise between Stromness and the isle of Bona, for the protection of the Hudson’s Bay trade, and repair with it to the Nore.
Portland 50 }
Jason 28 }
Atalanta 16 }
Montreal 32 To convoy trade to the Mediterranean and repair to Spithead.
Hussar 28 To cruise between Oporto and Lisbon.
Pelican 24 To cruise between Finisterre and Lisbon.
Fly 14 To convoy trade to Holland and return with it to the Nore.
Savage 14 To proceed to New York with dispatches and return to Spithead.
Hawke 10 To proceed to Newfoundland with dispatches and return to Plymouth.
Endeavour 10 To proceed with dispatches to Jamaica.
Ranger  8 To attend the Yarmouth Herring Fishery and return to the Nore.
Resolution 12·12″ } In remote parts.
Discovery 8·8″ }

[214] The letters A.S. stand for “Armed Ship.” These were merchant craft bought into or hired for the navy, and armed with small guns. The Resolution and Discovery were the ships of Captain Cook, then on his last voyage. It must be remembered that these lists represent the cruisers and convoy ships at home or sent directly from home. On every station the admiral would detail part of his command for such duties as these.

The manning of the navy continued to present the old difficulties, aggravated by the fact that we had lost the services of the thousands of American seamen who had been found in our ships in the last war. They were now manning the privateers which preyed on our commerce as far abroad as the Channel and the Mediterranean. All the old complaints were heard of the cruelty, the unconstitutional character, and the inefficiency of the press. A Bill to abolish it was introduced and favourably received in the House of Commons, but went no further. The fact is that the press was indispensable. We would not train men in peace. The merchant seamen would never enlist of their free will in the navy, and were the less likely to do so because the first effect of a war was to send up wages in the trading-ships. But the press was not only needed for the sailors. They indeed were sought by it with particular zeal, because their skill was indispensable in the ships as riggers and to set an example to other men in handling masts and sails in all conditions of weather. It was on them, too, that the captain relied in the greater perils of navigation. But they never formed the bulk of the crews of our warships, nor was it possible they should. In a debate on the Bill to abolish the Press, held on 11th March 1777, Lord Mulgrave declared that the total number of seamen in the country was only 60,000, while the number required for the navy in war had sometimes risen to 80,000. If the whole body of our merchant seamen had been swept into the navy and their places in our trading-ships taken by foreigners who swarmed in to earn the high war wages, there would still have been a deficiency. In truth we never secured all the merchant sailors. The list of men rated as seamen was made up by taking landsmen, who either volunteered or were impressed, and were not uncommonly vagabonds and jail-birds. Though [215]all might be known officially by the same name, a wide distinction was always made among the crews themselves, and in the opinion of the officers, between the “prime seamen” who had served their apprenticeship in the long sea voyages and could turn their hand to anything, and the mere “man-of-warsman,” who had not been bred to the sea and had only been taught the work of his particular station. It was inevitable that in crews composed in this fashion there should have been wide differences of quality and that some of their elements were worthless and criminal. Neither was it denied by the representatives of the Admiralty that this was the case. On the 11th November of 1777, Mr. Temple Luttrell said in the Commons, “Your bounties procure few good seamen, and your press warrants, though enormously expensive, fewer still, while great numbers are daily deserting from your ships and hospitals to commit robberies and murders in the interior counties.... I am assured that fifty have lately deserted from the Monarch while in dock, forty from the Hector, and twenty-five from the Worcester, six of these are confined at Winchester for felonies, and there are two committed to Exeter jail on a charge of murder.” Lord Mulgrave’s answer was that fifty men had indeed deserted, from the Monarch, because Captain Rowley was humanely unwilling to treat his men as slaves, and that the deserters were not to be regretted, because “the health of the rest was preserved, as the service was freed from a number of men not to be depended on.” No reply was given on other points. Lord Mulgrave’s tone of jaunty flippancy was characteristic of the incompetent Government which led the country unprepared into the most disastrous of its wars.

Yet in 1777 the navy was beginning to reap the benefit of the General Press warrant issues in October 1776, when the king and his ministers were at last forced to recognise that the rebellion in America was very serious. It was now possible to lay hands on good men by force. Until this was the case, our ships were not uncommonly manned in the fashion described in the following letter from Captain Price of the Viper sloop on the North American station in 1775, as quoted by Beatson in his Naval and Military Memoirs:—


“I am very much distressed for Petty officers, as well as Warrants. My Carpenter infirm and past duty, my Gunner made from a livery servant, neither seaman nor gunner; my Master a man in years, never an officer before, made from a boy on board one of the guardships, he then keeping a public house at Gosport. Petty officers I have but one, who owns himself mad at times. A Master’s Mate I have not, nor anyone I can make a Boatswain’s mate. I have not one person I could trust with the charge of a vessel I might take to bring her in.”

What complication of slovenliness and jobbery there was behind that master who had been borne as a boy on a guardship and yet kept a public-house at Gosport, we do not know, but it must be allowed that H.M.S. Viper differed vastly from the smart British man-of-war with her crew of fine seamen which is supposed to have represented the navy of the eighteenth century. It is probable, however, that she only differed in degree from the average vessel in commission at a time when jobbery was common, and there was no press at work to sweep in the thoroughbred seamen.

When our navy was weakened by corrupt administration and political faction, it was about to be matched against more formidable foes than it had met since the Dutch wars of the seventeenth century. The Americans were only privateers, but they were active and skilful. The French joined battle with us in 1778, the Spaniards in the following year, and the Dutch in 1780. Of these the first and second were not only more numerous but far more efficient than they had been in the two previous struggles. The disasters of the Seven Years’ War had stung the pride and patriotism of the French, and they had made serious efforts to restore their strength at sea. Public subscriptions had been opened to supply ships, and though the money promised was not always paid, they did something to supply the Government with funds. Choiseul, who was minister at the end of the war, tried hard to restore the naval service. Some of his changes and intended reforms were fantastic and could not last. Yet he did not a little to provide ships and to give the officers opportunities for practice. When he was driven from office by the king’s fear that he [217]meant to provoke another war with England, his work was for a time lost. But after the death of Louis XV. and the accession of Louis XVI. the French Navy became again an object of attention to the Government. With the encouragement of the young king, two able ministers, Turgot and M. de Sartine, strove hard to make it worthy of the rank of France among nations. These efforts were greatly increased as the progress of the American insurrection began to afford hope that an opportunity would be found to take revenge for the disasters of past years. In 1778 the French Navy consisted, according to official papers, of 122 vessels, of which 73 were of the line. A very large proportion of these were new, and were admirably built. The French naval officers had studied hard, and were animated by pride, both patriotic and professional, and the desire to retrieve their reputation.

Spain was a nerveless power, as Burke said years afterwards, and had not recovered even in the mere number of her population, still less in intellect and character, from the terrible exhaustion of the seventeenth century. Yet her king, Charles III., had tried seriously to supply his dominions with a navy. Happily for us, he was a man of limited intelligence, and made the common mistake of supposing that numbers constituted strength. In 1778 his navy presented a list of 141 vessels, in all of which 62 were of the line. Though his liners were with few exceptions two-deckers of 60 and 70 guns, they were fine ships. Some of them had been built by English shipwrights in the Spanish service. If Charles III. had been content with forty line-of-battle ships, and had spent the money economised on the building vote on giving practice to his squadrons and on forming a good corps of seaman gunners, his navy would have been a more serious opponent than it was. Still, the addition of the sixty-two Spanish liners with all their defects to the French seventy-three constituted a combination able to try the resources of our navy to the utmost.

The Dutch Navy had fallen far below the standard of its great days. In 1780, when the United Provinces joined the alliance against us, they had only twenty-six line-of-battle ships of from 50 to 76 guns, and twenty-nine lesser vessels. Great efforts were made to add to this short list during the course [218]of the war, but the additions were made too late to have any considerable effect. Holland, too, though it had not withered to the same extent as its old enemy Spain, had sunk from its former energy. Yet the seamanlike skill of the Dutch crews, their steady gunnery and phlegmatic valour, made them rank higher in the opinion of our navy than the French, and far higher than the Spaniards. The best contested battle of the war took place between an English and a Dutch squadron.

The beginning of the great naval war with France in the spring of 1778 was preceded by three years of warlike operations. They were mainly of an ancillary character, and the scope of this book does not allow them to be told in detail. It must suffice to say that they may be divided into two classes. On the Atlantic seaboard and the American lakes our officers and men were engaged in supporting the military forces employed to subdue the insurgents, or to repel inroads on Canada. Captains Douglas and Pringle did good and gallant service both in aiding Sir Guy Carleton to repel the invasion of Montgomery and Arnold, and in clearing the way for Burgoyne’s advance into the valley of the Hudson during the autumn of 1777. Here it was possible to force the enemy to action with the advantage of better discipline and larger resources in our favour. Less success was achieved along the far-stretched seacoast of the plantations. The fault lay to a very great extent with the Ministry, which would not recognise the magnitude of its task. It estimated the case so ill that in 1775, the year of Lexington and Bunker Hill, and of the publication, on the 23rd August, of the proclamation for “Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition in North America,” it reduced the establishment of the navy. The vote for men was cut down by 2000, and the total estimate was lowered from £2,104,917 to £1,674,059. From this figure it rose to £5,001,895 in 1778. In October 1776 the General Press warrant was issued. The bounty, though raised to twelve guineas, failed to draw volunteers. At that date there were on the muster books at home 8933 men. By the December of 1778, and under the strain of stern compulsion, the complements of our ships had been collected, at least on paper, on an adequate scale. The return for the 1st January 1778 is 62,719, and from [219]that level the navy advanced to the 107,446 men borne on its books on 1st January 1783.

During the three years from 1775 to 1778 the admirals successively commanding on the American station, Samuel Graves, Shuldham, and Howe, were endeavouring to overawe hundreds of miles of seacoast swarming with active seamen who were thrown out of work by the interruption of trade. In the summer of 1775 Graves had at his disposal four line-of-battle ships and twenty-one smaller vessels. If he had been able to make free use of all of them, they still would have been inadequate to the work to be done, but he was compelled to keep the bulk of them together at Boston to support General Gage. Reinforcements gradually brought the station up to the nine liners, 64- and 50-gun ships, and eighty or so small craft of all kinds which were under the flag of Howe, who assumed command in July 1776. But he was bound to attend mainly to the duty of helping his brother, Sir William Howe, during the advance to, and occupation of, Philadelphia.

The result was precisely what any competent naval adviser would have predicted. Our admirals were always able to cover the movements of troops and to carry out punitive expeditions against seaports. Of these there were many, and they were justified by the attacks made by the inhabitants on our boats’ crews and small cruisers. But they were wretched expedients, for they exasperated the enemy without crushing him into submission. Meanwhile American armed vessels intercepted supplies, cut off our boats, and captured transports—all the more easily because these last usually sailed without convoy. On one occasion, in August 1775, the insurgents actually landed in Bahama, and carried off a hundred barrels of gunpowder—a very seasonable supply to General Washington.

Out of this weakness at home came the second task thrown on the navy. Quick-sailing American privateers were soon swarming all over the Atlantic. The French and Spanish Governments professed to maintain strict neutrality, and did occasionally take measures to stop the use of their ports by the Americans, when the king’s Ambassadors were energetic in protesting, and could quote a definite instance. [220]But they saw our growing embarrassments with glee, and encouraged the privateers under hand. With this secret support to help them, and the even more effectual aid due to the unprepared condition of our navy, the privateers cruised with signal success. In 1777 they did heavy damage in the West Indies, and it was found necessary to appoint a convoy for the Irish linen trade with England—a precaution we had never been compelled to adopt in the Seven Years’ War. It was calculated in February 1778 that the insurgent corsairs had then taken 739 British ships. Of these, 174 had been released or recaptured, but the net loss was £2,600,000.

Counter captures of American ships engaged on the coast and West India trade were made to about equal numbers, but the loss and the retaliation were alike injurious to the commerce of the empire. The number of American privateers known to exist was 173, carrying 2556 guns and about 14,000 men. We had captured 34, but they were promptly replaced, and were reinforced by Frenchmen who fitted out their ships almost without disguise in French ports.

On the 13th March 1778, the Marquis de Noailles, then French Ambassador in London, made the momentous but not unforeseen announcement, that his master had signed a treaty of commerce and friendship with the United States, which he considered as already in possession of their independence. He added the ironical diplomatic expression of a hope that this alliance with the king’s American rebels, as our ministers were bound to consider them, would not disturb the friendly relations between the countries; but both sides knew that war was come. If the fighting did not begin immediately, the explanation of the delay is simply that M. de Sartine had not yet been able to bring the French Navy into thorough order, while King George’s ministers were, if I may use an expression which some of their successors have not scrupled to apply to themselves with a strange inverted pride, “muddling through.”

Had the house of Bourbon which ruled in France and Spain, and was resolved to abate the power of England, been in a position to adopt the most effectual method of attack, it would have thrown an overwhelming force into [221]the Channel at once, thereby paralysing us all the world over. But King Louis XVI. was hardly ready, and Spain, according to her custom, was not ready at all. King Charles III. maintained a show of neutrality till the following year, and was allowed to do so by the British Government, which continued till the last moment to profess the belief that he would not intervene. Had Lord North and his colleagues been ready to meet a danger foreseen by everybody else, one British fleet would have been promptly off Brest, while another would have been detached to the Mediterranean to blockade Toulon. Neither side having its squadrons fit for immediate use, there was an interval of pause. One French fleet was prepared at Brest under the Comte D’Orvilliers, a very old officer who had commanded the training squadron during peace, and had in that position proved himself a good instructor and a shrewd judge of character. Its purpose was to menace us at home, and so limit the force which could be detached to America. Our answer was the formation of the Western Squadron. The command was given to Keppel under pressure of public opinion. This admiral was then the most distinguished survivor of the leaders of the Seven Years’ War. Lord Hawke, Boscawen, Pocock, and Saunders were dead or in retirement. Rodney, who was as yet comparatively unknown, had ruined himself by gambling and electioneering, and had taken refuge from his creditors in Paris, where he had accumulated a new load of debt. The character and position of Keppel had an important influence on the early stages of the war. He was by family connection a strong Whig. Burke, who loved him, has recorded in the “Letter to a Noble Lord,” that “though it was never shown in insult to any human being, Lord Keppel had something high. It was a wild stock of pride on which the tenderest of all hearts had grafted the milder virtues.”

From early in 1777 Sartine had begun to prepare a squadron at Toulon. It was got ready with difficulty, for the Treasury was always in straits, and the classes then, as ever, worked ill. The purpose it was to serve was to carry help to the Americans. The command was given to the Comte d’Estaign, a great noble of the Rouergue, now known [222]as the department of Rodez. D’Estaign had been bred a soldier, had served in the East Indies, and had held a governorship in the West Indies. He was accused by us of having shown sharp practice when a prisoner of war to the East India Company. His bold, undertaking disposition had induced his sovereign to impose him on the corps of naval officers, which was discredited by the failures of La Clue and Conflans in 1759, and the timidity of D’Aché. That he was our ostentatious enemy was another strong recommendation. From his conduct in command we may gather that his daring was born of a heat of the blood, and not of a settled resolution of mind. He was therefore subject to fits of depression under the weight of responsibility. D’Estaign, whose destination was well known, was allowed to sail unmolested. Reinforcements were sent to Howe under the command of Admiral Byron. Byron, the grandfather of the poet, had all the knightly virtues of his brilliant cavalier house. He had sailed with Anson, had shared the wreck of the Wager to the south of Chiloe, had recorded his adventures of starvation among savages, or in friendship and love among the Spaniards of Chili, in a fine narrative, and had been the commander of a voyage of circumnavigation singularly barren of discovery. He was a brave, steady officer, but without original faculty for the higher parts of war, and so persistently unfortunate in meeting storms that the sailors had nicknamed him “Foul Weather Jack.”

The first movement was made by D’Estaign, who left Toulon on the 13th April with a squadron of twelve sail of the line and four frigates. Baffling winds, the unskilfulness of his crews which contained few seamen, and the bad sailing qualities of some of his ships delayed his progress, and it was not till the 15th May that he was able to clear the Straits of Gibraltar. The series of operations which opened with his appearance off the Delaware on the 9th July was long, and ranged from New England to the southern limit of the West Indies. While it was beginning, the main fleets of England and France were coming to battle in the Channel. It will tend to make a narrative which runs the danger of being confused from the number of contemporary events somewhat clearer if we turn to the first meeting between Keppel and D’Orvilliers, noting only that Byron left Plymouth with [223]thirteen sail of the line and a frigate on the 9th June to reinforce Howe, and therefore race D’Estaign across the Atlantic in a parallel and more northerly course. How he lost the race we shall see.

Amid delays and the wrangling of opposition with ministerial orators, the grand home fleet, or Western Squadron, was slowly made ready. On the 12th June, Keppel sailed from Plymouth with twenty sail of the line, and was joined later by two more. When on his way to his station off Brest, and at a distance of some twenty miles to the west of the Lizard, he met the French frigates Belle Poule and Licorne. There was as yet no formal declaration of war, but the absence of this mere ceremony only served to give an air of irregularity to his actions. The French frigates were ordered to come under the admiral’s lee. The Licorne being overtaken by the Hector 74, obeyed, but not without firing a broadside as she hauled her flag down—a mean demonstration very much on a level with our exercise of the rights of war while we denied that war as yet existed. The Belle Poule was summoned by the frigate Arethusa, a vessel of equal strength. Her captain, La Clochetterie, naturally refused to obey an order which Captain Samuel Marshal of the Arethusa had no right to give. A smart action ensued. The Arethusa rigging was cut to pieces, and the Belle Poule made off on the approach of fresh British ships.

Keppel returned to St. Helens on the 27th June, having learnt that the French fleet at Brest was stronger than his own. On the 9th July, the very day by the calendar on which D’Estaign was seen off the Delaware, he again went to sea with thirty sail of the line and six frigates. His second in command was Sir Robert Harland, and his third was Sir Hugh Palliser, the member of Sandwich’s Board of Admiralty who has been already named. D’Orvilliers had left Brest on the previous day with thirty-two sail of the line and fourteen frigates. He was endowed with large powers to punish or reward, and carried energetic instructions from Sartine to repair the misfortunes and errors of the past. The minister gave him clearly to understand that the king might pardon his officers for being beaten, but not for failing to fight hard.


On the 23rd July the fleets sighted one another 90 miles W.N.W. of Ushant in a westerly wind. We were between the enemy and the land, and therefore to leeward. The French admiral did not avail himself of his windward position to force on a battle, but followed the cautious tradition of his service and kept aloof. Four days of thick unsettled weather followed, hiding the opponents from one another. In this interval two of D’Orvilliers’ ships, the Bourgoyne, 80, and the Alexandre, 64, had separated and returned to Brest. Thus he was reduced to equality of numbers with Keppel, and to real inferiority of force, for one of his ships was of only 56 guns—a tolerably sharp warning of what may happen to officers who miss opportunities. At 9 a.m. on the 27th the French were seen eight miles to the W.S.W. with the wind at S.W. They were on the port tack, and heading to seaward. Keppel at once pressed in chase, while D’Orvilliers brought his fleet round to the starboard tack, and continued to hold his wind as if wishing to avoid battle. It was Keppel’s object to bring one on, and he headed for the rear of the French line. His own rear showed the usual tendency of a long line to straggle, and signals were made to Palliser, who commanded, to urge him on. Shortly after ten we were coming close on the rear of the French. A squall of both mist and rain swept over both fleets, hiding them from one another. When it cleared, the French admiral was seen to have turned his fleet again, and was heading to the west, still to windward, but so close that he would pass within cannon shot on the opposite tack. To Keppel this was a disappointment, for he actually avowed his belief that if the Frenchman meant to fight seriously he would have remained where he was. In other words he was of opinion that D’Orvilliers ought, as a man of honour, to have allowed his rearguard ships to be overtaken one after another, and crushed by the fire of the English as they came up in succession. By taking this absurdity for granted, Keppel gave the measure of his own intelligence as an admiral, and of his inferiority to D’Orvilliers as a manœuvrer.

The much debated battle of Ushant was in fact little more than a feeble parade. The fleets were going at the rate of five miles an hour, or at a combined speed of ten miles; allowing 150 feet for the average length of a ship [225]this meant that each individual vessel would be abreast of the passing enemy for about a minute. A little more than an hour was employed by the whole of the two forces in sweeping alongside from end to end. During this brief period of cannonading, made up as it was of much briefer flashes of combat between their component parts, the French gunners did more execution than ours. They pierced some of our ships on the water line where they were exposed as they lay over to leeward, and seriously crippled the rigging of many of them. As the two lines began to pass clear, D’Orvilliers ordered his van, nominally commanded by the Duc de Chartres afterwards known to infamy as Philippe Egalité, to turn and engage Keppel’s rear division on the lee side, meaning to turn his centre and rear at the same time, thus putting Sir Hugh Palliser between two fires. But he was ill obeyed by the Duc de Chartres, whom common fame accused of cowardice, and finding that his plan could not be executed, he ran down to leeward and formed his fleet on the starboard tack heading to the east, and in the same direction as ours. Keppel had wished to turn his fleet also, but many of his ships were severely crippled in hull and rigging, and the order could not be executed. One of the most injured was the Formidable, 90, flagship of Sir Hugh Palliser. We therefore remained on the same tack. With both heading in the same direction, and we to windward, an opportunity might appear to have offered itself for our favourite manœuvre of bearing down, and engaging from end to end. But in the course of these twistings and turnings, the van and centre, which were less injured than the rear, had gone further to leeward and were nearer the French. Palliser found the Formidable unmanageable, and his division remained about him. Thus Keppel could not get his whole force together, and would not attack with a part. When night fell D’Orvilliers left two quick sailing vessels to show a light in order to produce the erroneous impression that he was still there, and steered for Brest where he anchored on the 29th. Keppel, concluding on reflection that he had many ships injured, that the enemy was better able to repair damage than he was, and that Brest was a dangerous lee shore, decided to return home, and anchored in Plymouth on the 31st July. On the 23rd August [226]he was at sea once more, and on the 28th October back at Spithead. D’Orvilliers came out on the 18th August and was home again at Brest on 30th September. Our fleet took several French prizes, but there was no meeting, while our trade was fortunate in escaping French cruisers. And this was the summer campaign of 1778 in home waters.

I would prefer to say nothing of the shameful service and national quarrel which arose out of this poor battle, but it is too full of warning, and had too much influence on the history of the coming years to be passed over. We know from a letter of Samuel Hood, who was then Commissioner of Portsmouth dockyard, that as early as the 4th of August it was common knowledge that the chiefs of the fleet were on bad terms. Keppel, in his public letter, had praised both Harland and Palliser, but in truth he was fiercely angry with the second, whom he accused in his heart of having deliberately prevented the action of the 27th from becoming a real victory. It is obvious from his recorded words and his whole tone, that he believed Sir Hugh Palliser had acted as the agent of Sandwich in the execution of a conspiracy for his ruin. The solitary dignity of his quarterdeck left him unchecked to brood over this imagination till he was in the state of mind of some unhappy victim of the mania of persecution. I fear we must add that there were sycophants under his command who fed his delusions. We still possess a toadying acrid letter from no less a man than John Jervis, then captain of the Foudroyant, and at all times a strong Whig, which shows him busy in the mean work of making bate. Being answered according to his folly, Keppel grew so wise in his conceit that he reached the point where he became convinced that there was a plot to cause the overthrow of the British fleet, in order to discredit such an eminent Whig as himself, that Sandwich was the author, and Palliser the agent thereof. It was not sane, and it was the kind of insanity to which only a dull intelligence would have been liable when exasperated by soured vanity. But “the spirit of faction” was so rampant in England at the time, and had so thoroughly aroused one of the worst faults of our character, a tendency to loud-mouthed and contentious hectoring, that he did not want kindred spirits to fool him to the top of his bent.


The press, animated as it was by the malignant spirit of Junius, whose voice had only just fallen silent, took up the tale. Whigs bragged that their admiral had saved the state from the ministerial treason of Sandwich. Ministerial papers replied that their vice-admiral had baffled the Whig traitor. Charge and counter-charge came thick and grew more specific. On the 15th October the Morning Intelligencer made a poisonous attack on Palliser, fortified by details which must have come from Keppel’s partisans, and would not have been given without his approval. Sir Hugh, being hot-headed, by no means a clever man, and probably ill advised, called upon Keppel for a contradiction. He ought to have been silent or to have sued the paper for libel, and to have produced his admiral in the witness box. Keppel, who shirked taking responsibility all through, would not write an answer. In an interview he took a high and mighty tone, and spoke of the dignity of despising the press. Sir Hugh, again most foolishly, made a public answer to The Intelligencer, and allowed himself to be entangled in a controversy with “the bronzed and naked gentlemen of the press.” Both men were members of Parliament, and they met in the debate of the 2nd December. Palliser spoke to vindicate himself, Keppel to injure his subordinate. He got over the question why he praised Sir Hugh in his public letter, by saying that he meant only to refer to his personal courage, which was undoubted, and that this was the most important quality of an officer. If we could suppose that he meant what he said, these words might again be quoted as giving the measure of his intelligence. But his excuse was a subterfuge. For the rest he would say nothing definite. He would sneer. He would insinuate. He would give to be understood. He would do anything except show candour. He wished Sir Hugh to be condemned for gross misconduct, and while forwarding the condemnation with cunning, he wished to maintain a fine attitude of magnanimity and of regard for the king’s service, thus escaping the inconvenience of having to prove his charges at a court martial.

To suppose that Sandwich wished to produce his own utter ruin by causing the defeat of the Western Squadron, would be to put ourselves on the moral and intellectual level [228]of Keppel, his sycophants in the fleet, and his friends of the opposition. But the First Lord was as pure an intriguer as many of them. There can be little doubt that he encouraged, and none that he allowed, Palliser to bring his chief to a court martial on charges of mismanagement of the fleet in the battle. Keppel had shown the poorest commonplace of the dull tactics of the time, but he had been orthodox in a brainless way. The hope, no doubt, was that public opinion would be turned against the Whig. The exact contrary result followed. First a body of admirals headed by the veteran Lord Hawke, now nearly at the end of his honourable life, protested against the decision of the Admiralty to allow an inferior to accuse a superior. It is a necessary consequence of the respect which all disciplined men have for authority, that the higher ranks must always be protected from being proved to be in the wrong by the lower, lest the indispensable spirit of subordination should suffer. That the chief is in error is to be deplored, but not demonstrated. Then the far from ignoble sympathy of the mass of Englishmen for a supposed victim was aroused on behalf of Keppel. His court martial, which lasted from the 7th January to the 11th February 1779, ended inevitably in his acquittal. His friends made much of his sufferings from persecution, but they were allowed to make his poor health the excuse for a private bill to exempt him from the necessity of being tried on the flagship in Portsmouth. His triumph took place in the more comfortable surroundings of the governor’s house. The London mob, always ready for riot in the 18th century, celebrated the finding of the Court by rabbling the houses of Palliser and Lord North, and burning the gates of the Admiralty in Whitehall, under the leadership of the Duke of Ancaster and, as it is said, of the youthful William Pitt.

Palliser resigned and demanded a court martial. Though Keppel still refused to appear as accuser, the trial was held on the flagship between the 12th April and 3rd May. It ended in an acquittal with the qualification that Palliser ought to have made the admiral acquainted with the condition of the Formidable. Sir Hugh retired to the Governorship of Greenwich Hospital. Keppel was so popular that the Admiralty did not dare to remove him. But he was now in love with his parts [229]of martyr and factious politician. He began to wrangle over orders, and to find offence where none was. At last he was allowed to haul down his flag at his own request. In his place in Parliament he was not ashamed to sneer at a brother officer, who, in the course of 1779, had to retire up Channel in face of an enemy twice his strength, and to insinuate that he himself would have been bolder in such a pass than he was with the equal fleet of D’Orvilliers, and the coast of Brest under his lee in July 1778. For a time he, with the help unhappily of Howe, an incomparably better man, set the disgraceful example of refusing to serve because what they were pleased to call their honour was not safe with Sandwich. His tar barrel popularity was clamorous for a space, and he succeeded Vernon on many tavern signboards, but by 1783 Rodney and Hood had arisen, and the patriot hero of 1779 had become the “Cautious Leeshore.”

While the battle of Ushant was being half fought, and the subsequent quarrel was dragging its slow length along, a brilliant campaign was being conducted on the coasts of America. D’Estaign, it will be remembered, had cleared the Straits of Gibraltar on the 16th May. His squadron consisted of the Languedoc, 80 (Flagship), Tonnant, 80, César, 74, Zélé, 74, Hector, 74, Marseilles, 74, Protecteur, 74, Guerrier, 74, Vaillant, 64, Provence, 64, Fantasque, 64, and Sagittaire, 64, with the frigates Chimère, Engageante, Alcmène and Aimable. Some of them were bad sailers, and as the crews had been completed by drafting soldiers, they were awkward. The neglect of the past weighed on the French fleet, and the nerve of the Admiral. D’Estaign spent much time in practising his raw crews, a wise precaution no doubt, but one which was fatal to rapidity of movement. He added gratuitously to the causes of delay by turning aside to chase prizes. On the 8th July he reached the Delaware, and landed M. Gérard de Rayneval, the French Minister to Congress, whom he had brought with him. Even then he would not make haste to begin his attack on the British squadron. On his way north to New York, and on the 10th July, he actually lost sight of his fleet because he employed his mighty flagship, the Languedoc, in chasing a trumpery British vessel named the York, of 10 guns and 60 men. These were not the methods [230]to employ against the wary, resolute, and thorough antagonist he was about to encounter.

Howe had been informed early in May of the coming intervention of France. Her entry on the scene made it absolutely necessary to withdraw our troops from Philadelphia and concentrate at New York. Of the total force of eleven ships of the line and sixty-eight smaller craft under the admiral’s command, some were at our naval port Halifax, others were at New York, and others in Rhode Island, then held by a body of British troops under General Pigott. Howe called all the ships which could be spared from local duties to his flag, and set about covering the retreat of the army now led by Sir Henry Clinton. Transport to convey the troops by sea were wanting, and it was also thought to be the more dignified course to march through the Jerseys. On the 18th June the army had crossed the Delaware under cover of the squadron, and made its way to Navesink, harassed, but not seriously impeded by Washington. Howe reached Sandy Hook on the 29th June, and waited to cover the entry of Clinton into New York. Here he was informed of the sailing of D’Estaign, and of the reinforcements destined for himself, which had left Plymouth under Byron so late as the 9th June. On the 30th June Clinton’s army appeared on the heights and was passed over to New York by the 5th July. Barely was the passage concluded when Captain Gardner, of the Maidstone frigate, sent a lieutenant with the news that D’Estaign had been seen to enter the Delaware. On the 11th July the Zebra sloop ran in with the news that the Frenchman was close at hand. If D’Estaign had taken less than nearly two months to make the run from Toulon, the concentration of our forces at New York would have been defeated, for Howe was far too weak to give battle, and must have been shut up in the Delaware.

The force actually with Howe consisted of six 64-gun ships, three of 50, two of 40, frigates, and small vessels. The 40-gun ships being wholly unfit to lie in a line of battle, Howe was practically outnumbered in the proportion of two to one by the fine squadron of D’Estaign. Outnumbered as he was, he had no resource but to stand on the defensive, and the anchorage at Sandy Hook happily afforded him an admirable [231]position. Sandy Hook had once been a peninsula, but the sea having broken through the narrow isthmus connecting it with Navesink, it was already an island running due north and south, and so forming a natural mole to the anchorage. Outside it is the Middle Bank, and to the north is the East Bank. There are two entries from the sea to the roadstead—one between the Middle Bank and Sandy Hook, which is too shallow for big ships at the northern end, and the other between the Middle Bank and East Bank, which is rendered uncertain by a bar. Batteries were thrown up at the north end of Sandy Hook. The squadron was then anchored in a line from the extremity of Sandy Hook to the west, in this order. The Leviathan, a store ship turned into a floating battery, Ardent, Nonsuch, Trident, Somerset, Eagle (Flagship), and Isis. Frigates were brought inside to the south, while the Vigilant, Phœnix, and Preston were posted behind the bar between the Middle and East Banks. Fireships and gunboats were placed where they could threaten the flank of the French fleet if it crossed the bar. The ships in the line were anchored with a spring on the cable—that is, with a cable carried out from the stern and fastened to the cable of the anchor so that their broadsides could be worked round to bear on an approaching enemy. If then D’Estaign attacked, every means possible had been provided to crush his ships in detail as they cleared the Middle Bank, and came under the fire of the batteries at the extremity of Sandy Hook and of Howe’s line. Our squadron was short-handed, but the deficiency was promptly made good by the eager zeal of the sailors in the merchant ships and transports. Though they habitually avoided the press when they could, there was no hanging back at this crisis, and the volunteers outnumbered the call made by the admiral. As many of them must have served at one time or another, and all were “sailormen” able to set up rigging and splice ropes, they were not mere raw recruits. The officers and men of Clinton’s army came forward readily to serve as marines.

The hazard before D’Estaign was not trifling. Yet had he attacked at once when he appeared off Sandy Hook on the 12th July, he would have found Howe’s dispositions still incomplete. Even later he ought beyond all question to have [232]stood in. The total destruction of Howe’s squadron would have given so severe a blow to the material strength and the prestige of England that it would have been cheaply purchased by the sacrifice of half D’Estaign’s ships. So would have reasoned his subordinate the captain of the Fantasque, Suffren. But again the past weighed on the unstable mind of D’Estaign. He anchored four miles from Sandy Hook, off Shrewsbury, and remained till the 21st examining the bar, and communicating with the Americans. The risk of grounding on the bar seemed too great to him to be run, and in all probability he asked himself, what would happen if the British reinforcements arrived and found him amid the wreck of Howe’s ships with a crippled squadron? On the 22nd he made a show of falling on, and then sailed away to the south. A small convoy fell into his hands, and he had the satisfaction of blockading a British port for ten days.

Howe at once dispatched frigates to watch the enemy. Observation and rumour led him to believe, rightly, that D’Estaign meant to proceed to co-operate with an American force in an attack on Sir R. Pigott on Rhode Island. But for some days he was too weak to move. On the 26th July the Renown, 50, joined him from the West Indies. She had passed through the French squadron on her way, unmolested and perhaps unobserved. Misled by bad information from home, Howe had been under the impression that Byron was bound for Halifax. He had sent thither for news, and on the 26th his messenger returned with the report that nothing was known there of the reinforcements, but that the Commissioner, Captain Fielding, was sending on the Raisonable, 64, and Centurion, 50, which had refitted. They joined the flag at Sandy Hook safely. On the 30th July the Cornwall, 74, came in from Byron’s squadron with a depressing story.

The admiral had met his accustomed fortune in weather when he was least able to contend with his implacable enemy. He had left Plymouth on the 9th June with one 90-gun ship, eleven 74, one of 64, and a single frigate. If numbers were all in war, while speed and efficiency were little, his squadron had been more than enough to sweep D’Estaign from the coast of America. But Byron sailed late, and his ships were ill provided in all ways. The crews had [233]been made up by drafts of prisoners who brought the jail fever with them. So bad was the condition of the fleet that it was unable to contend with a summer storm which broke on it in the middle of the North Atlantic on the 3rd July. Some of the ships returned home, and all were scattered. Byron himself struggled on alone toward Sandy Hook till the 18th August, when he sighted the French fleet, and turned back to Halifax, where he found one only of his command. Except the Cornwall, none reached Howe’s flag in time to be of service. Those which limped in later, and by degrees, were crippled in rigging, and foul with putrid fevers.

On the 29th July, the day before the Cornwall joined his flag, Howe heard that D’Estaign had been sighted off Rhode Island, to the east of New York. The object of the Frenchman was manifestly to co-operate with the insurgents in attacking the British force then occupying the island, under the command of General Pigott. Howe was the last man in the world to be deterred by mere inferiority of numbers from exerting himself in the king’s service, and outmatched as he still was, he prepared to support General Pigott. Contrary winds detained him at New York till the 6th August. On the 9th he was off the southern end of Rhode Island. Rhode Island is one of several which nearly block up a great oblong bay opening to the south in the coast, which here runs nearly due east and west. It is separated from the mainland on the east by the Sakonnet Channel, and from the island of Conanicut on the west, by the Eastern Passage. The Western Passage divides Conanicut from the mainland, and leads to the land-locked waters of Narragansett Bay. The town of Newport stands nearly at the south-western end of Rhode Island, and here General Pigott had concentrated his troops when the American general, Sullivan, passed over from the mainland to attack him. D’Estaign had anchored within Brenton’s Ledge, at the south-western point of Rhode Island, on the 29th July. He sent two frigates up the Sakonnet Channel and two liners up the Western Passage to Narragansett Bay, and then entered the Eastern Passage on the 8th August, anchoring above the town of Newport, at Goat Island, between Conanicut and Rhode Island. His appearance in overwhelming strength sufficed to gain him a naval success without fighting. A small [234]British flotilla, consisting of the frigates and sloops Orpheus, Lark, Juno, Flora, and Falcon, was caught at hopeless disadvantage, and was burnt by the commanding officer, Captain Brisbane, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the French. The crews were added to the garrison of Newport.

Howe was off Brenton Point on the 9th. He had a difficult game to play, for he was still inferior to his opponent by a third, and he had to take the offensive. Everything depended on precision of movement, and the British admiral transferred his flag to a frigate in order that he might keep his whole squadron always under his eye. The question whether the proper place for an admiral was in the midst of a battle or outside of it was argued in the eighteenth century, and has been debated since. It really resolves itself into the other question, whether the admiral is best employed in setting an example or in directing the operations of which he must needs lose sight from the moment that his flagship is involved in the fire and smoke of battle. Tradition and the point of honour dictated the first course. Sound judgment agrees with them—whenever the example is of more moment than the direction. But there are times when it is not, and the early days of August 1778 off Rhode Island was one of them. Yet only an officer of Howe’s established reputation for cool intrepidity could have afforded to break away from old usage, and it is said that he was so far impressed by the fear of being thought shy that he intended to return to his flagship if a battle had to be fought.

D’Estaign credited his opponent with more energy than he had himself shown at Long Island. He was seriously afraid of being attacked by fireships at anchor—and indeed they had been prepared, and would have been used. When, therefore, the wind shifted from south to north-east on the morning of the 10th, he came at once to sea, cannonading Pigott’s batteries at Newport as he passed, and calling in the two liners sent to Narragansett Bay. Though he had numbers and the wind in his favour, he made no attempt to force on a battle, and manœuvred to keep the weather-gage. Howe strove to win it, intending to fall on the Frenchman and to use his fireships. He succeeded, but a furious gale scattered both fleets on the 11th, and they were not [235]rallied till the 17th. In the interval, the French had suffered more from the storm than our ships. Three of them, the Languedoc, Marseilles, and César, were attacked while crippled by the Renown, Preston, and Isis, smaller vessels, but under complete command. None of them were taken, thanks to the timely arrival of help. Howe reunited his squadron at Sandy Hook, and then returned to Rhode Island on hearing that the Frenchman had reappeared. But D’Estaign had lost all confidence, and was oppressed by a sense of the need for stores and repairs. He sailed away to Boston. Sullivan withdrew from Rhode Island, exploding against his ally in terms of rude and taunting reproach. Howe found the French too strongly posted in Boston to be assailed, and after reconnoitring their position on the 30th, returned to New York. Byron’s scattered ships now began to drop in, but Howe’s service was over for the time being. On the 25th September he handed over his command to Gambier, and sailed for home. On his return he refused to serve under Sandwich, who had supported him so ill. The reason was a bad one, and was not excused by the fact that the minister’s hacks endeavoured to throw blame on the admiral. An officer who pleads a personal offence as an excuse for not fighting his country’s enemies sets an example which is only just short of mutinous.

Gambier was soon superseded by the arrival of his superior Byron. “Foul Weather Jack” made haste to refit his ships at New York, and on the 18th October went to look into Boston. Storms blew him about, he lost vessels, and was forced to take refuge in Newport, Rhode Island. D’Estaign in the meantime had been striving with the ill-will of the Bostonians, a people described by the English historian Beatson as of “a sour, morose, and sullen temper.” They were very angry with the French for not giving more support to Sullivan at Rhode Island, and showed their ill-will by making riotous attacks on the sailors of their allies. One of D’Estaign’s officers, M. de Saint Sauveur, was actually killed in a savage conflict between the townsmen and the French boats’ crews. The admiral was nevertheless able to refit his squadron mainly with our own naval stores, captured and brought into port by the active American privateers. The approach of winter made campaigning hazardous on the [236]stormy Northern coast, and on the 4th November D’Estaign sailed for the West Indies, where the French wished to recover their losses in the previous war. All through this war the main fleets will be found leaving the Antilles when the hurricane months begin in July, and the summer favours them in the North. Then, as winter approaches, and the hurricane season is over in October, they will be found streaming back to take part in the defence or conquest of the islands round the Caribbean Sea. The change in the scene of conflict had been foreseen by us. On the 4th November, the very day that D’Estaign left Boston, Hotham sailed from New York with two 64-gun ships, three of 50, and three frigates, carrying 5000 men of the army in North America, which was already too weak for its work. They were destined for Barbadoes first, and then for the general protection of the Sugar Islands. So close did Hotham and D’Estaign come to one another on the passage that a Newfoundland dog belonging to an English officer, which fell overboard, is said to have been picked up swimming by the French flagship the Languedoc, but there was no meeting.

Though to follow the cruise of D’Estaign and Byron to its close will compel us to overlap contemporary operations elsewhere, an even greater degree of confusion would be created by making an arbitrary break in the narrative of one continuous series of movements. Yet it is necessary to go back for a brief space to explain what the rival admirals found waiting for them, when they came escaping from the snowstorms and icy cold of the North to the unfailing easterly trade winds, the baffling land breezes, the sun, and the purple seas of the West Indies.

The French possessions in those waters consisted of part of San Domingo, of Guadaloupe, Martinique, and Marie Galante. Dominica, between Martinique and Guadaloupe, was in our hands. Next to the South came Santa Lucia, a French island, and beyond it St. Vincent and Grenada, English possessions. The whole of the Lesser Antilles constituted the Leeward Station, so called because they lie to leeward of Barbadoes. The reader may be reminded that as the easterly trade wind is permanent in the West Indies, and is therefore called “the true breeze,” to leeward [237]always means to westward, and to windward is to eastward for the Creole and the seafaring man. During the early months of 1778 there had been the usual examples of breaches of the law of nations on both sides, and the consequent mutual accusations, very loud and very futile. The French had no naval force at hand except a few frigates and sloops. Our own squadron consisted of one 74-gun ship, one 70, with frigates and sloops to the number of fourteen. From the month of June onwards they were under the command of Samuel Barrington, a member of the well-known Irish family. Barrington remained at Barbadoes waiting to see what the French would do. In September he discovered. The Marquis de Bouillé, Governor of Martinique, collected a flotilla of frigates, sloops, and trading-craft, embarked troops and Creole volunteers, and soused down on Dominica. It fell at once, and the history of its fall is highly characteristic of our management in those days. Forts had been built and guns landed for the defence of the island. Nothing was wanting except a garrison. There was no force in Dominica save parts of two companies of the 48th and a handful of artillerymen—not enough to hold a small fort. Having nothing else to do, they surrendered. Barrington complained that he was misinformed as to the strength of the enemy. If he had not kept his line-of-battle ships idle at Barbadoes, he could have found out for himself, and one of them cruising round Martinique would have stopped Bouillé. It was quite in keeping with this sloth and this dependence on information supplied by governors that Barrington joined the noble band of officers who refused to serve in responsible places under Sandwich because their honour was not safe with him. Having allowed Dominica to go for want of support, he left Barbadoes in order to see after the safety of Antigua, to the north of Guadaloupe. It was our naval dockyard in the Leeward Islands. Antigua having a competent garrison was in no danger. Then he returned to Barbadoes, and waited till he was joined on the 10th December by Hotham with the ships and soldiers from New York.

The combined squadrons at once proceeded to give the French a Roland for their Oliver by seizing Santa Lucia. The French island was not much better prepared for defence than [238]Dominica, and when it was attacked on the 13th and 14th of December the Governor retired to one of the hills in the interior, while the coast fell into our hands. Barrington anchored in the Cul de Sac, a bay on the western side of the island opening on to the Caribbean Sea, while the troops besieged the French Governor. Next day D’Estaign appeared with his more powerful squadron. He had anchored at Fort Royal, in Martinique, on the 9th December, and it had been his intention to assail Barbadoes. The danger of Santa Lucia compelled him to change his plans. He shipped Bouillé and his troops, and on the 15th made his effort to rescue the island. It proved but feeble. Barrington had placed his seven ships across the mouth of the Cul de Sac, throwing up shore batteries to cover his flanks. If he was wanting in foresight and enterprise, he was stout. D’Estaign behaved as he had done at Sandy Hook, making mere shows of attack, and excusing himself by pleading that the treacherous breezes under the land hampered his movements. They presented real difficulties, but in the opinion of D’Estaign’s best officers he was too easily disconcerted by such obstacles. Bouillé landed with his troops, but failed to shake the hold of the British troops on their positions. Then D’Estaign heard by a privateer that Byron was on his way from North America. Instead of judging as his countryman Mahé de la Bourdonnais had done at Madras, that the approach of relief for his enemy was a reason for making an instant and strenuous effort, he re-embarked the troops on the 28th, and next day anchored at Fort Royal in one of the fits of depression and self-pity which alternated with his outbursts of energy. M. Micoud, the French Governor of Santa Lucia, surrendered on the 30th, he having also nothing else to do, and the island remained with us, to serve as Rodney’s headquarters in the great crisis of the war.

Byron had indeed left Newport in Rhode Island, on the 14th December, after a desperate struggle with his old enemy the storms, which very nearly drove one of his liners on shore, and did considerable damage to the spars of others. With twelve sail of the line he struggled through the winter weather, and reached Barbadoes on the 7th January 1779. Then he pushed on to Santa Lucia, which he made his headquarters [239]for the watch on D’Estaign at Fort Royal. The French admiral now outnumbered, was cautious, and would risk nothing. He only came out to go in again. In February Byron was reinforced by Rear-Admiral Rowley. Though this officer was stationed to windward of Martinique, to intercept any reinforcements coming to D’Estaign, he failed. The French admiral was successively joined by the Comte de Grasse, Rodney’s opponent on a future date, from Brest, by Vaudreuil from the coast of Africa, and by La Motte Picquet from Toulon. They brought his strength up to twenty-five sail of the line and twelve frigates, which gave him a distinct superiority of numbers over Byron.

The next passage in the naval campaign illustrated at once some of the burdens laid on our admirals, Byron’s poorness of judgment in the greater operations of war, and the miserable character of the principles on which the French were content to act. In June the West India convoys were collected for their return to Europe. The meeting-place of the ships was St. Christopher, to the north-west of Guadaloupe. Commerce was so essential to England that no admiral could have neglected to give it protection. Nor could the country, which was suffering severely from the strain of the war, have endured the entire stoppage of the West Indian trade for the year in order to leave the fleet free—a measure occasionally taken by the military and autocratic Government of France. But Byron could have secured the convoy from danger by blockading the French at Fort Royal. He did not know of the arrival of La Motte Picquet, and had every reason to believe himself still superior to D’Estaign. Even if he were not, and the Frenchman came out to give battle, this was precisely what an English admiral ought to have desired. But Byron sailed away to Saint Christopher to mother the convoy, leaving the road open to his enemy. If D’Estaign had been a truly bold man, and not only a gentleman of showy daring in “the imminent deadly breach,” which indeed he was, he would have sought out Byron at once after the junction of La Motte Picquet’s squadron. But he was content to dwell in the traditional French policy of avoiding battle and grabbing at ports. Freed from Byron’s watch, he swooped on small game. St. Vincent was carried by an expedition of [240]irregulars under a bold partisan of the name of Trolong de Rumain, a lieutenant in the French Navy. Trolong was helped by the Caribs, and even more by a quarrel then raging between the English Governor and his Council. St. Vincent having been secured, D’Estaign on the 2nd July fell on Grenada with his great fleet and Bouillé’s troops.

Byron having seen the convoy on its way home, returned to Santa Lucia on the 1st July—to learn that St. Vincent was gone, that D’Estaign was at sea, and that some other of our possessions was menaced. He was ill informed as to the strength of his opponent, and remained in doubt for two or three days as to what the Frenchman was doing. While preparing to attempt the recapture of St. Vincent, he heard of the danger of Grenada, and came down to its assistance—too late. On the 6th July a battle was fought off the island which marks the very nadir of the pompous futile tactics developed under the old Instructions. Byron had with him twenty-one ships to his opponent’s twenty-five, and was to windward. D’Estaign, at anchor when the Englishman appeared, stood out, keeping to leeward, and waiting to be attacked. We came down in a slanting line, the leading English ship steering for the leading Frenchman. Of course our van came into action unsupported, and was cut to pieces. Then D’Estaign made no attempt to push his advantage, but whisked round, and returned to his anchorage. Byron picked up the fragments, and seeing that Grenada was gone, sailed away to St. Christopher again. A few weeks of mere parade followed. D’Estaign made motions as if to force on a battle, but did nothing effectual. Byron was ready to fight again, if his opponent would provide him with a battle. In August he left for home, handing over the command to Admiral Parker. D’Estaign, after touching at San Domingo, sailed for the coast of America to join General Lincoln, in the unsuccessful attempt to retake Savannah, occupied by us during the previous autumn. The siege was raised in October, and the French admiral left for home followed by the growls of the discontented Americans.

While these operations were running their course on the American coast and in the West Indies with various fortunes and no striking display of ability, in the later months, an [241]amazing example of the essential weakness of England’s enemies was being given at home. Spain joined France in the summer of 1779, bringing to the aid of her allies the unwieldy bulk of her nerveless fleet. The Courts of Paris and Madrid came to the decision to attempt an invasion under the protection of their united squadrons. French troops and transports were collected at Havre and St. Malo. On the 3rd June, D’Orvilliers sailed south to meet the Spaniards with twenty-eight of the line, nine frigates, and eight small vessels, and by direction of his Government stationed himself at the Sisargas, twenty miles west of Corunna. Slothful and unready as ever, the Spaniards had not fully joined till the 26th July, and four days more were spent in settling signals and other details of business. D’Orvilliers had no confidence in the success of the lumbering armament he was called upon to direct. He thought that the sixty-six liners of which it was composed made too large a force to be manœuvred. The Spaniards might be brave and willing, but were in his opinion neither officers nor seamen. Don Luis de Córdoba, their commander-in-chief, a man of seventy-five, is described as having “no personal existence,” and as having seen no service except against the Moors. His individuality was displayed only in senile obstinacy and vanity. Provisions were ill supplied, the health of the fleet was bad and grew worse. D’Orvilliers’ heart was broken by the death of his only son, an officer in the flagship, who fell a victim to the pest. In these miserable conditions, material, moral, and mental, the new Armada sailed from the coast of Galicia.

On one side reinforcements had been sent to North America under Arbuthnot in the early months of the year, and an attack on the Channel Islands had been beaten off. Sir Charles Hardy, an old officer, was drawn from retirement and appointed to succeed Keppel, when he and other admirals refused to serve. Hardy sailed with the grand fleet of thirty-five sail to the West on the 16th June, and remained at sea covering the trade and watching for the enemy. With bolder management he might easily have delivered a crushing stroke at D’Orvilliers at the Sisargas during the fifty mortal days while the French were waiting for the lagging Spaniards. D’Orvilliers and Córdoba reached as high as Plymouth [242]on the 14th August, and their presence caused a lively panic in the country. But nothing came of it all, except the capture of the Ardent, 64, which fell into their hands by the bad management of her captain. First the allies were paralysed by calms, then the wind turned easterly on the 17th, and blew them out westward. They sighted Hardy, but failed to bring him to action or to prevent him reaching Spithead, and by the 14th September had broken up and had turned back to their respective homes. The four days’ command of the Channel for which Napoleon was to sigh had been theirs, but they did nothing with the opportunity.



Authorities.—As before.

The course of the war in 1780 was dictated by the political conditions. France, disappointed by the futile end of the great demonstration in the Channel in 1779, did not renounce naval warfare in European waters, but was turning her attention towards giving more effectual aid to the Americans, and to efforts in combination with the Spaniards for the entire expulsion of England from the West Indies. Spain watching Minorca, and blocking Gibraltar, was prepared to co-operate with France in Europe and the Antilles, while making an effort to recover Florida. Don Bernardo de Galves, sailing from Havana, did achieve success in this minor and isolated operation. The most effectual defence for us would have been to blockade Brest, Ferrol, Cadiz, and Toulon. But with an equality of numbers against us and the peremptory obligation to give naval support to the army in America—the cancer which drained our strength in all these years—the high line could not be taken. Moreover, the rigid enforcement of our belligerent rights against neutrals at sea was steadily bringing us into collision with Holland, to the verge of a conflict with the Northern Powers, Russia, Prussia, and the Scandinavian States, and this would have been sheer ruin; for the revolt of the plantations had cut us off from the supply of American naval stores, and we were dependent on the Baltic for timber, pitch, and hemp, without which our fleets could not have been fitted for sea.

D’Orvilliers and Luis de Córdoba having shrunk away from the Channel in September 1779, we were at liberty to [244]set about defending our remoter interests, the relief of Minorca and Gibraltar, and the strengthening of our naval position in the New World. Mention has been made of the sailing of Arbuthnot in June. He had with him a convoy of 400 merchant-ships with stores for General Clinton at New York. Having turned aside to defend the Channel Islands, he sent his convoy into port to wait for him. A shift in the wind delayed his departure from the Channel, and though he got away safe under the wing of Hardy’s grand fleet, he did not reach New York till August. Here he took over the command from Sir John Collier, who had superseded Gambier, and he co-operated in December 1779 with Cornwallis in the taking of Charlestown, in Carolina, after the retreat of D’Estaign from before Savannah. In the West Indies Hyde Parker had a superiority of force over D’Estaign’s successors, the Comte de Grasse and La Motte Picquet, and was able to confine them to Fort Royal.

At the close of 1779 measures were taken to relieve Minorca and Gibraltar and to reinforce the West Indies. A great convoy was collected to carry stores and soldiers to the Mediterranean fortresses. It sailed under the guard of twenty-two line-of-battle ships and many frigates. The command was given to Rodney, who after relieving the fortresses was to go on with part of the fleet to the West Indies, and there supersede Parker. With Rodney a new spirit entered into the conduct of the naval war. He was the ablest officer, except Howe, who had yet hoisted his flag, and was indeed a man of quite another stamp from Keppel, Byron, Parker, Hardy, or Arbuthnot. In the Austrian Succession and Seven Years’ Wars he had gained a reputation in the service for ability and zeal, had been captain under Mathews and Hawke, had commanded in the Leeward Islands, and had been bitterly disappointed when he was superseded by Pocock during the capture of Havana. He was eager, was not satisfied with the prevailing formal application of the Fighting Orders, and had turned his intellect to the conduct of war. His defects were that he was no longer young, and that his health was ruined by diseases which were, at least in part, the result of early dissipation. It was his misfortune to be too deeply conscious of the fact that he [245]represented an ancient family of Somersetshire gentry and was closely connected with the ducal house of Chandos. His brother-officers appeared to him in the light of middle-class persons of inferior breeding who lived mostly in the ports when on shore. The naval habits of the time kept the captain and admiral in great seclusion, since it was hardly thought consistent with their dignity to speak with subordinates except on matters of duty. Under the influence of pain and social arrogance, Rodney carried this isolation to an extreme. He had ruined himself by gambling and bribery at elections, and had taken refuge from his creditors in Paris when the American War began. A loan from the French Marshal Biron saved him from imprisonment as a debtor in the Bastille. On his return to London he sought for employment, and the refusal of other admirals to serve opened the way for him to his great but tardy opportunity. The jobbery and favouritism of the age had by no means left him untouched. During his famous command in the West Indies he made his own son a post-captain at the age of seventeen, and he drove his subordinate, Isaac Coffin, into flat revolt by forcing mere lads on him as lieutenants. When he sailed for Gibraltar in December 1779, two influences were at work in his mind, a noble and ignoble. He burned to gain glory for himself and victory for his country by vigorous conduct of the war, and he was deeply concerned to repair his shattered fortune by prize money.

Rodney sailed on the 27th December 1779, taking with him both the reliefs for Minorca and Gibraltar, and a convoy of merchant-ships bound for the West Indies. The trade was seen clear of the Channel, and sent on its way on the 7th January 1780. The main fleet now went on to Gibraltar with the stores and reliefs, and on the 8th, when 300 miles E.N.E. of Finisterre, fell in with and captured a Spanish convoy of one 64-gun ship, seven frigates and sloops, and fifteen merchant-ships, bound for South America. This prosperous beginning of the service was soon followed by a more signal success. Storms in the Straits had distressed the awkward Spanish blockading fleet, and the greater part of it had been forced to take refuge in harbour. But a squadron of eleven ships of the line under the command of Don Juan de Lángara [246]was stationed off Cape St. Vincent to intercept the relieving force which the Spanish Government was convinced would not exceed ten liners. On the 16th January Rodney swept down on this inferior force, in a brisk breeze rising to a gale from the west. He steered between them and the land as they endeavoured to escape, overtook them in the night, and destroyed them completely. Six were taken, one of the prizes being Lángara’s flagship, and a seventh blew up with the loss of all hands. Two of the prizes were recaptured by their Spanish crews during the storm following the action, but as Barceló, the Spanish admiral, did not venture to leave the protection of the forts at Algeciras, there was no further opposition to the relief of Gibraltar. Rodney’s subordinate, Digby, went up the Mediterranean to Minorca with stores. On the 14th the admiral left for the West Indies with six sail of the line, and four days later Digby, leaving four ships to aid in the defence of the fortress, took the others, and the empty storeships, back to the Channel unopposed by Frenchman or Spaniard. This handsome success, the just reward of intelligent measures vigorously executed, raised the spirit of the nation, and Rodney sprang at once from comparative obscurity, outside his own profession, into universal popularity.

I will again treat the operations in West Indies and on the coast of North America as the main stream of the war, and therefore follow Rodney’s flag for the present. He reached Santa Lucia on the 27th March to find Sir Hyde Parker anchored at Gros Islet Bay, and menaced in his turn by a superior French force. Until the middle of the month, Sir Hyde had been engaged in watching La Motte Picquet and the Comte de Grasse at Fort Royal, and in covering the arrivals and departures of the merchant-ship convoys. In common with all other naval commanders on the West Indian stations, he looked forward to taking a share in the recapture of our lost islands and in the conquest of the French possessions. About the middle of March he was expecting to be joined by transports conveying troops under General Vaughan from North America, and therefore took port to windward—which is to eastward—of Martinique to meet and protect them. On the 21st the junction was effected, and at the same time Parker heard that the French were expecting reinforcements [247]from Europe. He left Commodore Collingwood with four sail of the line to look out for them, and returned to Santa Lucia with the other twelve of his command, and General Vaughan’s troops. The French at Fort Royal had in the meantime divided. Part had gone to San Domingo with La Motte Picquet. The Comte de Grasse remained with the others to wait for the fleet coming from France. Immediately after Parker anchored at Choque Bay, in Santa Lucia, his look-out ships reported that they had seen a great French convoy entering Fort Royal. On the top of this report Commodore Collingwood ran into Choque Bay with his detached squadron, and the news that he had been chased by sixteen French sail of the line, had escaped them, had met four sail of Rodney’s squadron which that officer had sent on, and had sent them back to their admiral with the information that the French were in force.

The newcomers were the powerful fleet fitted out at Brest, and they came under the command of Luc Urbain de Bouëxic, Comte de Guichen, a man of sixty-two, and one of the most interesting figures in the French Navy of the day. He represented at once all that was best in the French noblesse of his generation, its virtues of good breeding, high personal honour, and loyalty—all that was most accomplished in the scientific training of the French naval officer of the eighteenth century, and all that was most fatal in their theories of the conduct of war. No man handled a fleet with more precision or with greater elegance, and no man manœuvred with more dexterity not to injure his opponent, but to baffle that opponent’s attempts to injure him. We shall see why he fairly divided the honours of the coming encounter with Rodney, but it was characteristic of his school, and was its condemnation, that his active career was to end in the Bay of Biscay two years later in failure and discredit, simply through the breakdown of the manœuvring he loved under the direct thrust of Kempenfelt. On the 23rd March he joined Grasse at sea to windward of Martinique. Having now twenty-four sail of the line to Parker’s sixteen, he prepared for the reconquest of Santa Lucia, and appeared to leeward of the island on the 24th. He was not quick or energetic enough to prevent Parker from covering the entry [248]of another convoy of troops from Barbadoes, which came in round the north end of the island, on that day; nor did he intercept Rodney, who joined Parker on the 27th, raising the total British force to twenty-two of the line, and taking up the command.

On the 2nd April Rodney put to sea in search of Guichen. The French admiral followed the usual course of officers of his service. Though equal in number to his opponents, he declined battle, remained at anchor under the guns of Fort Royal, and waited till the absence of the British fleet should offer him an opportunity to strike at one of the British Antilles. Rodney returned to Gros Islet, leaving frigates to watch. On the 15th April, Guichen came out, having with him a detachment of troops commanded by Bouillé. Rodney was instantly informed of his movements, and started in pursuit. On the 16th April he sighted the French twenty-four miles west of the Pearl Rock, a little island outside Fort Royal. On the following morning he was to windward of his enemy, having twenty sail of the line to Guichen’s twenty-two. The French had stood off to the N.W. when sighted, and had been followed by the British. Both fleets were to leeward of Martinique. At 6.45 a.m. Rodney signalled that he intended to attack the enemy’s rear, and at 7 a.m. ordered his line to close till the ships were at one cable’s length from one another. The order to bear down was given at 8.30. Both fleets were heading to the N.W., and the French were very much extended. There was a gap between their rear and their centre. Guichen seeing that his rear division was in peril, at once reversed the order of his van and centre, and stood to the south to its assistance. He thereby closed the gap, and as his rear turned also to the south, it became the van. Rodney was thus baffled, and drew off, resuming his course to the north. Guichen then turned his fleet in the same direction, and the two again stood to the northward side by side out of gun-shot. At 11 a.m. Rodney hoisted the signal to engage. It was his intention that his fleet should steer for the enemy’s rear with the ships at a cable’s length apart. His captains unfortunately understood the signal to attack the rear as applying only to the first movement. Brought up in the old faith of the Fighting Instructions, they fought as they had been trained to fight—steering van to van, [249]centre to centre, and rear to rear. Rodney’s plan to concentrate his whole force on a part of the enemy was spoilt, and the battle to leeward of Martinique ended as many others had done, with a great deal of damage to the spars of the British ships and the retreat of the French little hurt.

This failure remained a subject of bitter regret to Rodney. At the time and afterwards he attributed it to the deliberate misconduct of his captains, who, he said, let the French escape in a factious spirit of opposition to the king’s Government. More credible explanations are: the influence of unintelligent rules of tactics; and his own partly valetudinarian and partly arrogant solitude. If he had explained to his captains the principles on which he meant to fight, his orders would not have been misunderstood, and it would have been impossible that they should have been disobeyed. The merit of his proposed plan is manifest when it is compared with the mechanical rules of the Fighting Orders. Yet that merit may be, and has been, exaggerated. Such a concentration as he designed could always be answered by an enemy who was prompt to reverse his order and to close his line, as Guichen showed in the early hours of the day. So long as the British fleet engaged to windward, there could be but indifferent security that the enemy would not cripple its rigging and slip away. Rodney, in short, set the example of innovating on the formal tactics of the time, but before great results could be obtained much more had to be done than he showed himself prepared to do on the 17th April 1780.

The operations following the battle were marked by no decisive event. Rodney, after keeping for a few days between Guichen and Fort Royal, returned to Choque Bay to refit. Several of his ships, and the flagship among them, the Sandwich, had been severely damaged. Guichen, after visiting the Dutch island of St. Eustatius to procure stores, stationed himself to windward—that is, to the west of Martinique. His object was to effect a junction with a Spanish squadron under Admiral Solano, which was known to be on its way from Europe. Rodney followed him. Exasperated by the want of support he had suffered from in the last action, he put his fleet through a severe course of manœuvres, and drew the reins of discipline tight with a severity which aroused the wrath of [250]his subordinate, Sir Hyde Parker, who on his return home was with difficulty restrained by the advice of Sandwich from creating another naval scandal. Twice Rodney came close enough to Guichen to bring on partial actions—on the 15th and 19th May. But the Frenchman was resolved not to be brought to close action. He had the weather-gage, and kept it so carefully that only the van ships of the British line came into action with the rear of the French as the two fleets passed on opposite tacks. It was characteristic of the spirit and principles of the French Navy of the time that Guichen was much praised for, and was visibly proud of, his success in baffling Rodney’s attempts to bring him to battle. Rodney, who might have cut off two or three of the rearmost French ships if he had ordered his van to steer into the enemy’s line, was not prepared to depart wholly from the old methods. On the 21st May, Guichen, whose ships were in want of repairs, went off to the northward, and Rodney lost sight of him. The French returned to Fort Royal, and the English to Barbadoes.

At Carlisle Bay, in that island, on the 22nd May, Rodney was joined by the Cerberus frigate. Her captain, Mann, brought news that when cruising off Cadiz he had sighted a Spanish squadron of twelve sail of the line on the 2nd May, with a convoy of merchant-ships. He had followed it for days, had convinced himself that it was bound for the West, and had left his station to warn Rodney. Sir George, who received further information from Lisbon, put to sea to intercept the Spaniard, who he concluded was bound for Martinique. But Don José Solano steered a more northerly course, and on the 10th June effected a junction with Guichen at Guadaloupe. Rodney had been reinforced by five ships of the line while to windward of Martinique, but was now so much outnumbered by the united Spaniards and French that he returned to Gros Islet Bay and stood on his guard. Nothing was attempted by the enemy. The Spaniards were horribly sickly and in no condition for service, while several French ships were worn out. On the 5th July the allies separated, Solano going to Havana, and Guichen to Cape François, in San Domingo, from whence on the 16th August he sailed for Europe. Rodney was joined at Santa Lucia by reinforcements [251]under Commodore Walsingham on the 12th July, but no opportunity for action was presented by the enemy. The hurricane season, during which the West Indies are dangerous, had begun, and the trade had to be seen safe to Europe. Rodney sent off the merchant-ships convoyed by Sir Hyde Parker, detached ten of the line under Rowley and Walsingham to Jamaica, and sailed himself with ten ships of the line to North America.

On the North American station the British squadron had been commanded since the latter part of 1779 by Rear-Admiral Marriott Arbuthnot, a somewhat dull man of impracticable temper. During May he had co-operated with Sir Henry Clinton in the occupation of Charlestown, but during the rest of the year he had been checked by the appearance on the coast of a French squadron of nine sail of the line under the Chef d’escadre D’Arzac de Ternay. Ternay had sailed from Brest on the 2nd May, escorting 9000 troops under Rochambeau. On the 20th June, near Bermuda, he fell in with four British sail of the line under Cornwallis, who was escorting a flock of merchant-ships homeward bound through the Florida Straits. The two squadrons cannonaded one another feebly. Ternay having “his mission to fulfil,” would not stop to crush Cornwallis, and went on to Rhode Island, which he reached on the 11th July. Arbuthnot, who was reinforced by Graves on the 13th July, made preparations to co-operate with the army in an attack on the French; but delays followed one another, and no attack was made. The brief stay of Rodney on the station was not marked by any active operation. Arbuthnot looked upon him chiefly as a competitor for shares of prize money, and was angry at his intrusion. Sir George, whose health suffered in the keen air of a northern autumn, reached New York on the 22nd September, and was back in the West Indies on the 12th December.

In home waters the war was conducted with languor on both sides after Rodney’s relief of Gibraltar. The British Government having to meet calls all over the world, could only collect some thirty sail of the line in the Channel, which were successively led by Admiral Geary, a worn-out veteran, and Admiral Darby. Geary, after a cruise in June and July, [252]during which he made a few prizes of merchant-ships, resigned in August. One object of his cruise was to see a large convoy of ships bound to the East and West Indies safe out of reach of the French and Spanish fleets. It was to be guarded when clear of European waters by Captain Moutray in the Ramillies, 74, with the Thetis and Southampton frigates. The convoy consisted of five East India Company’s ships, of eighteen transports carrying a regiment to the West Indies, and of forty West Indian merchant-ships. Moutray left Spithead on the 29th July. He was allowed two other line-of-battle ships till he was 300 miles beyond the Scilly Isles. He met Geary at sea, and was escorted by the grand fleet till he was some 340 miles west. Then he was left, the admiral thinking that he was now safe. But he was running into extreme peril. The French had sent the Chef d’escadre Bausset with seven of the line and the Spanish ships at Brest to join Don Luis de Córdoba at Cadiz. While they were there, secret information of the sailing of the convoy and of the weakness of Moutray is said, by Spanish historians, to have reached the Prime Minister of Spain, the Count of Floridablanca. He at once ordered Córdoba and Bausset to sail and intercept the prize. They were right across Moutray’s route when, on the 8th August, in Lat. 36° 40 N. and Lon. 15° W., their sails were seen on the horizon at sundown from the masthead of Moutray’s advance ship. Thinking the sails belonged to neutral ships, he held on till night. Then the number of lights reported as seen ahead made him alter his mind. He signalled to his convoy by gun-fire to lie to with their heads to the west, and then, again by gun-fire, ordered them to continue their course. It was his meaning that they should go as they were then pointing. The captains of the Indiamen, transports, and merchant-ships understood that they were to resume the course they were on before they lay to, which was to the south. His signals had been heard by the allies, who steered for the sound of the guns. So when the sun rose on the 9th August, Moutray with his solitary 74 and frigates was well out to the west and to windward. The sixty-three ships under his charge were sailing right into the arms of a big French and Spanish fleet, which closed on them, and carried them all [253]into Cadiz. It was the greatest disaster suffered by British commerce since Tourville had scattered the Smyrna convoy. The necessity for satisfying the public by making an example led to Moutray’s trial by a court martial, and he was reprimanded. In truth, nothing he could have done would have saved his convoy when once it was close to so great a force. He lived to be appointed as Commissioner of the Dockyard at Antigua, and to have some difficulties with Nelson.

The allies returned in triumph to Cadiz, and their success encouraged the Spaniards to persevere in the war. A great fleet collected in the port in October,—Spanish ships, Frenchmen from Brest and from Toulon, and Guichen with a worn-out squadron from the West Indies; but it did nothing, and scattered to winter quarters.

In 1781 the war grew in intensity. Disputes arising partly out of the exercise by the British Government of its claim to take an enemy’s goods out of a neutral ship, and partly out of the encouragement given to the Americans by the city of Amsterdam, led to a declaration of war on the Dutch Republic by Great Britain in December 1780. To guard against an attack by the Dutch on the trade with the Baltic, from whence our naval stores were mainly drawn, it was necessary to station a squadron in the North Sea, which threw an additional burden on the already heavily taxed navy. Every ship which could be patched up for service had to be put into commission. The number of vessels in “full sea pay” was 398, and 90,000 men, including 20,000 marines, were voted to form the crews.

So many were the calls on the navy that it was not possible to collect sufficient line-of-battle ships for service in home waters. The nominal superiority of the allies was overwhelming, but the difference between paper and real strength has rarely been better shown than in this year. The Dutch were not ready. The French, though incomparably the most formidable of our enemies, could not man and officer all their ships effectively. The Spaniards were miserably inefficient. France and Spain alike were intent on pushing the war in America, or in endeavouring to recover Minorca and Gibraltar. Both dreaded the dangers of the Channel. Thus no resolute effort was made to assail Great [254]Britain itself. In America our enemies gained, by the intelligent use of their fleets, the success which established the independence of the United States. In European waters the British Government was compelled to leave the garrison of Minorca to its fate. After a siege begun on the 18th August 1781, it surrendered on the 4th February 1782. Yet the foundations of our power were not only not shaken, but were not seriously menaced.

Before taking up the story of the war in American waters, it will be convenient to show how the heart of the empire was guarded, and how the forces on both sides started for operations in distant seas. The British Government had to provide first of all for the free movement of its trade—a task greatly complicated by the war with Holland. Then it had to reinforce its squadrons in America, to endeavour to strengthen its general position by seizing the Dutch possessions at the Cape, and by providing for the safety of Gibraltar. The great fortress was on a superficial view a mere burden on the fleet throughout the war. Three great armaments had to be sent for its relief first and last. Two of them were provided only by leaving the Channel with small or no protection. Some English public men were of opinion that it might be profitably exchanged for an island in the West Indies. Yet it attracted a large part of the enemy’s forces which might have been employed with more damaging results to us elsewhere. It is true that for this we have to thank the want of intelligence of our opponents. To recover Gibraltar was an object for which the King of Spain was prepared to make every effort, and he could think of no other way of taking it than by direct siege. His Ambassador in Paris, the Count of Aranda, had sagacity enough to see that it might be recovered “in the heart of Jamaica.” Aranda could, however, secure no hearing. So long as our opponents were intent on mastering Gibraltar by bombardment and blockade, the obvious interest of England was to keep it from capture. Nor could the pride of the nation be reconciled to the surrender of this trophy of former wars. Its importance to the ultimate interests of the naval power of Great Britain was to be amply proved in the next war.


To provide for the free movement of the trade a small squadron of one line-of-battle ship and a few frigates was stationed early in the year on the east coast of Scotland. Privateers, American and French, had already been active in those waters, and were now to be reinforced by the Dutch, who, when once at war, set vigorously to work to make up for the neglect of their fleet in previous years. Commodore Keith Stuart, who was in command of the small protecting force, found it insufficient. The history of the war in the North Sea during 1781 shows with what difficulty and at what a cost trade is carried on when the command of the sea is disputed. The Artois frigate was appointed to protect the merchant-ships bound to the Baltic. During the spring 200 merchant-vessels collected in the Firth of Forth. They were detained at first by weather, and then by orders from the Admiralty, which feared that they would be captured by Dutch frigates. Their provisions were consumed and heavy expenses incurred. In the meantime another flock of trading-ships had been collected on the east coast, and was sent to the Firth of Forth under the protection of a squadron commanded by the Vice-Admiral Parker whose services in the West Indies have been mentioned. He came up from the Downs collecting the traders on his way. On the 10th June he had collected his charge, 500 merchant-ships in all, at Leith. Before he could see them on their way, the homeward-bound convoy from Jamaica came in—seventy trading-craft under the protection of four sail of the line, one 50-gun and one 44-gun ship—much battered by storms, and infested with scurvy after a long voyage. The West Indiamen stopped only to obtain fresh vegetables, and then continued their voyage to the South. On the 27th June Parker sailed, saw his convoy safe to the Baltic, and then cruised in the North Sea, waiting for the homeward-bound ships.

The condition of Parker’s squadron shows that the Admiralty had indeed been driven to sore straits to provide protection for the North Sea trade. After he had been joined by Stuart with the Berwick, 74, he was able to make up a line of seven vessels in all, but it was only by including [256]two which were not line-of-battle ships—the Preston, 50, and the Dolphin, 44. The Princess Amelia, 80, was nominally a strong ship, but she was so crazy with age that it had been found necessary to reduce her armament. She carried only 24-pounders on the lower deck instead of 32-pounders, and the rest of her guns were 18-pounders and 9-pounders. Parker’s flagship, the Fortitude, 74, and the Berwick represented the solid part of his command. If the Dutch had been able to send an equal squadron of strong ships, it would have gone hard with “Vinegar” Parker. Happily for him and for the interests of British trade, the Dutch had to make shift with the old and weak when they needed the new and strong. On the 20th July a squadron of seven ships, to form the line, and a number of frigates sailed from the Texel with a large fleet of merchant-ships under their protection. The admiral in command was the Schout-bij-nacht Johan Arnold Zoutman, an elderly officer, of the same stamp as his English opponent, an excellent practical seaman beyond doubt, and a stout-hearted man, but nothing more. His line of seven was made by including three ships of 54 guns and one of 40. The largest of his ships was the Admiral Generaal, 74, commanded by Captain Kinsbergen. Zoutman’s flag was in the Admiraal de Ruiter, 68, and one 64-gun ship, the Holland, made up the tale. Other two ships were sent out to accompany the convoy, but were not available for an action with the British squadron.

Contrary winds and the usual obstructions inseparable from the task of convoying a swarm of clumsy merchant-ships delayed Zoutman’s movements. It was not till the first days of August that he was clear of the shallows of the Dutch coast. In the meantime, the British trade homeward bound from the Baltic had collected behind Parker. On the 5th August the Dutchman bound northward, and the Englishman southward, sighted one another on the Dogger Bank, in a north-westerly wind—Parker being to the windward and westward. Each admiral sent his convoy on its way, and both prepared for a fair trial of strength.

The battle which followed has an almost pathetic interest. It was one of the last fought on the old traditional rules, and it was fought by men who played the game with a single [257]heart. Therefore it showed what was best in those rules, their downright manhood, and what was weakest, their hidebound pedantry. Zoutman seeing that Parker had the weather-gage and the option of battle, lay to on the port tack, heading to the north. Sir Hyde Parker bore down to engage from van to rear, every man to take his bird. His flagship was in her orthodox place, the middle, which in a line of seven was the fourth. Zoutman was the fifth in his line. Now the proper opponent for an admiral is an admiral. Parker therefore laid the Fortitude alongside the Admiraal de Ruiter. But as there were three ships ahead of him and three astern, while there were four ships ahead and two astern of Zoutman, it followed that there were three English to four Dutch in the van, and three to two in the rear. The last ship of Parker’s line had consequently no opponent. In the van the Berwick, 74, was very rightly laid alongside the leading Dutchman, the Erzprinz, 54. The second English ship tackled the third Dutchman, and the third the fourth. Therefore the second Dutchman had no opponent. Yet every ship was kept in its position, since the signal for the line was flying. Not a shot was fired by the Dutch as their enemies came down to the attack. They lay quiet, with their marines admirably pipeclayed drawn up on their poops. When the other sportsman was comfortably in his place, Zoutman opened fire. English and Dutch pounded one another with stolid resolution. The loyalty of the seamen of the time to the superstition of the line of battle was wonderfully shown in the van. Commodore Stuart had rightly closed with the leading Dutch ship to prevent her from getting to windward and doubling on the head of our line. The Berwick being a far heavier ship than the Erzprinz, was able to drive her to leeward. In following up the attack the Berwick fell to leeward, and then finding herself out of her proper place, tacked back to resume her station. The battle was a cannonade of three hours and a half. At the end of that time the Dutch drew off, and Parker did not pursue. His ships were severely damaged, and his casualty list, 111 killed and 318 wounded, was a more severe loss than any suffered in action with the French in this war, in proportion to the number engaged. Zoutman returned to port, and Parker continued his voyage [258]home. The safe arrival of the Baltic convoy was a subject of very natural rejoicing, and much was made of Parker’s “victory,” though victory there was none. He for his part was discontented, and resigned his command, saying, we are told, that he wished the king younger admirals and better ships. At a later period he was chosen to command in the East Indies. He sailed in the Cato, 50, for his station. His fate is unknown, for he never reached his destination, and no trace of him was left, save a vague story that a great ship, which may have been his, had been wrecked on the coast of Malabar, and that the survivors of the crew had been massacred by the natives.

While these operations were running their indecisive course in the North Sea, two great armaments had sailed from Spithead and from Brest, each on a distant mission, and each carrying with it subordinate squadrons to be detached for still more remote destinations. On the 13th March Admiral Darby sailed from Spithead with twenty-eight line-of-battle ships. Some were to be detached to the West Indies, and others to sail for the Cape of Good Hope and take it from the Dutch, when Darby’s immediate service was performed. He had also with him the outward-bound East Indiamen. His orders were to collect the vessels laden with provisions in Irish ports for the use of the garrisons of Gibraltar and Mahon, to convoy them to the fortresses, to detach the reinforcements for the West Indies, and the squadron destined to the Cape with the East Indiamen under its charge, and to return to the Channel. To meet the victuallers, he steered for the south coast of Ireland, and was there delayed till they joined him from Cork. While Darby was waiting on the south coast of Ireland the Comte de Grasse left Brest on the 22nd March, with twenty sail of the line, bound for the West Indies, and having with him a small squadron to be detached for an attack on the British settlements in the East Indies. Darby, having collected his victuallers, went on his way, and Grasse on his without a meeting. The strenuous futility which is conspicuous in the operations of all parties in this war was never more visible than in this misuse of two great fleets. If Darby had fallen on Grasse and had driven him back to Brest, the Americans would have been deprived of the aid [259]which enabled them to take Yorktown at the close of the year. If Grasse had been joined by even six or eight Spanish ships in an efficient state, and had fought a whole-hearted battle with Darby off the Old Head of Kinsale, it is possible that the entire naval defence of Great Britain might have been ruined, and it is eminently probable that the relief of Gibraltar would have been stopped—in which case the fortress must have fallen for it was at the end of its resources. But the rulers in London and Paris had their eyes on the end of the earth and could not see that victory at home would mean success all over the world.

The web of naval warfare covered the North Atlantic, the threads crossed, the shuttle flew to and fro. All were players in the same game and each acted on the other. The squadrons detached to the Cape and the Indian Ocean by Darby and Grasse went into a wider field and acted apart. The North Sea was a field by itself, but the other fleets and squadrons from Newport in Rhode Island, down the East Coast of America to the West Indies, across the Atlantic to the Straits of Gibraltar, and north to the Channel, worked together, and on one another in harmony or in conflict. Let us see how the players stood when Darby sailed from the south of Ireland for Gibraltar, and Grasse steered from Brest for the West Indies.

When the year began the French squadron of seven sail of the line and two frigates lay at Newport. It was commanded by Chevalier Destouches, who succeeded to the command on the death of Ternay, on the 15th December 1780. Arbuthnot was in command of the British squadron of eight ships of the line, two 50-gun ships, and twenty-three frigates, with his headquarters at Long Island. His ships had to patrol the coast and to co-operate with the British forces acting in the southern Colonies. In January he sailed to reconnoitre the French, but on the 23rd his squadron was beaten back by a violent gale. The Culloden, 74, was lost on the end of Long Island, and the Bedford, 74, dismasted. The America, 74, was driven out to sea, and did not rejoin his flag for weeks. Washington throughout the year was striving to bring about a concentration of French and American forces on either the northern or southern parts of [260]the divided British. He urged Destouches to put to sea while Arbuthnot was disabled. But the Frenchman was oppressed by anxiety lest the stormy weather should be as fatal to him as to his opponent. He sent Le Gardeur de Tilly with one 64 and two frigates to fall on the British transports of Arnold’s force in Virginia. The French officer found that they had taken refuge in Elizabeth River, and returned. On his way to Rhode Island he captured the Romulus, 44, and a number of prizes. Meanwhile Arbuthnot lay at Gardiner Bay in Long Island. Under the steady driving of Washington, Destouches got to sea on the 8th March, with seven of the line and two frigates—one of them the captured Romulus, and 1500 French soldiers under Viomesnil, to reinforce the Americans in Virginia. On the 10th Arbuthnot followed him with eight ships of the line and two frigates. The two steered for the Chesapeake in squally weather, mists, and driving rain. The English squadron was the quicker of the two. On the 16th March it overtook the French between forty and fifty miles N.E. by E. of Cape Henry. It was in the power of Arbuthnot to put himself to leeward of Destouches, and between him and the coast in the north-easterly wind. But faithful to tradition he let the Frenchman run to leeward of him, and then made two rushes at him in the old style. The Frenchman as usual fired to dismast and slipped away. Yet Arbuthnot was the more pertinacious of the two. After an inconclusive action he anchored at Lynn Haven in the Chesapeake, and Destouches, finding the road still barred, went back to Rhode Island. Arbuthnot came back to Long Island, having at least baffled the enemy’s attempt to carry reinforcements to Virginia, so that at the close of March both were again “as they were” at Long Island and at Newport.

Meanwhile events of no very honourable character had occurred in the West Indies. Rodney had returned to his station, the Leeward Islands, from North America on the 12th of December 1780. He was soon joined by Samuel Hood with reinforcements from Europe. Hood, when the war began, had been commissioner of the dockyard at Portsmouth. The acceptance of this post was by custom held to mark an officer’s final retirement from active sea service. But the [261]Admiralty wished to supply Rodney with a second in command who would work more harmoniously with him than Parker. Hood had served under Rodney’s eye at the beginning of his career. He had been captain of the Vestal, from which Rodney directed an attack on a French flotilla in 1759. The refusal of many flag officers to take commands while Sandwich remained First Lord supplied another reason for departing from usage. Hood, who was no political partisan, or who at least was no Whig, was included in a promotion of flag officers, and was sent with reinforcements and a large trade convoy to the West Indies. Soon after he joined, the Childers sloop brought news of the outbreak of the war with Holland.

No more welcome message could have reached the ear of Sir George, for it brought to a very embarrassed man the hope of infinite prize money. The Dutch Island of St. Eustatius, lying high up in the Lesser Antilles, had been used for the purpose to which the British port of Nassau in the Bahamas was put in the American Civil War. It had become a great dépôt of contraband, by which the French profited largely. It was also the seat of an unwonted trade of more legitimate character. The West Indian planters were under the necessity of buying all the food for their slaves in the North American colonies. As the supply could not be stopped without producing ruin to the British Islands, Government was compelled to relax the rigour of its navigation laws, and permit the planters to obtain supplies through neutral ports. This authorised trade concentrated at St. Eustatius. Maize and pork were brought from America, and British goods were brought to pay for them. Long rows of warehouses sprang up on the usually empty shore of the one landing place of the Dutch island.

The news that St. Eustatius was fair prize reached Rodney on the 27th January. On the 3rd February he seized the island. The neighbouring port of Saba was taken at the same time, and a Dutch convoy was followed and captured. From that moment and for the ensuing weeks Rodney became blind to the interest of his country and to his own honour in the contemplation of the stupendous mass of booty which was at last to make him a rich man. A part of his force was [262]to have sailed to seize the Dutch possessions on the mainland of South America. The admiral would not part with a ship. Essequibo and Surinam were left to be taken by a swarm of privateers. There was no French force in the Leeward Islands except four of the line at Fort Royal. Lest they should come to molest him at St. Eustatius Rodney stationed the bulk of his fleet outside that port. In vain did Hood, who was detached for the blockade, point out that the belt of calm under the land of Martinique, the fitful breezes, and the westerly set of the current in the Caribbean Sea made it impossible to lie close up to the land and intercept reinforcements coming to the French from Europe. In vain did he ask leave to cruise to windward of Martinique on the track of any French force which might be coming. Rodney, reduced to the moral level of a buccaneer, would think of nothing except that if Hood were to windward of the island, the French at Fort Royal might slip out and recapture the booty at St. Eustatius. There he himself remained superintending the sorting and packing of the spoil. In that position they were at the end of April when Grasse was seen coming round the south end of Martinique on the 28th April.

While the French admiral was crossing the Atlantic Darby had carried out the relief of Gibraltar. He saw the ships ordered to the East Indies safe on their way, and on the 11th April was off Cadiz. His look-out frigates counted thirty-six Spanish sail of the line at anchor in the port. They had grown foul while blockading the fortress, and had run out of stores. They were in fact “wanting in everything at the critical moment,” as Wellington was to find the Spanish armies at no distant day. Córdoba, their admiral, was a man of childlike faith and piety. When a French officer came to expostulate on the scandalous spectacle presented by a fleet of thirty-six sail which allowed a weaker force to relieve the fortress under its eyes, he left his cabin with his rosary in his hand. He listened to the carnal arguments of the Frenchman, and then replied with saintly unction, that it had pleased God to make the English stronger on the present occasion, but that he would doubtless give the superiority to the Spaniards in his own good time. He then went back to his prayers. Darby was allowed to carry his convoy into Gibraltar, and [263]to despatch others to Mahon not yet besieged. He met no opposition from the Spaniards except from a few rowing gunboats, which fired at him from a respectful distance, when the breeze had fallen. On the 19th April he sailed for home—his work done. He swept close by Cadiz, “lifting his leg on the Spaniards” as Horace Walpole puts it, but they would not come out.

On his way back he missed a piece of service which would have given him a well-earned reward. While he was to the south the convoy which Rodney had taken from the Dutch, together with much of his booty, was on its way home. Another rich convoy was due from Jamaica. The French Government had news of them, and sent six sail of the line and four frigates and sloops to intercept them. La Motte Picquet fell in with Rodney’s prize convoy about sixty miles to the west of the Scilly Isles. They were under the protection of Commodore Hotham with two line-of-battle ships and three frigates. Seeing the superiority of the French, Hotham ordered his convoy to disperse, and drew his warships into a line. But the Frenchman followed the booty and Hotham was not alert enough to molest him. Twenty of the convoy were taken. La Motte Picquet, satisfied with his gains, now turned home to Brest. It was well for him that he did. Darby was informed of the capture of Hotham’s convoy, and at once sent Rear-Admiral Digby with a squadron to effect its recapture. But Digby never sighted the chase. The look-out ship of the main force with Darby, the Nonsuch, 64, commanded by Captain Sir James Wallace, fell in with one of La Motte Picquet’s ships, the Actif, 74, commanded by M. de Boades, and the two fought a desperate action, which lasted through hours of the night of the 14th May. Both were severely mauled. The Nonsuch lost twenty-six men killed, and sixty-four wounded; the Actif fifteen killed and thirty-eight wounded. The action may be quoted to prove that there was at this time no difference in efficiency between the best ships in the French navy and our own. La Motte Picquet took his prizes into Brest, and with them the fortune of Rodney. Little was left to the admiral except a ruinous series of lawsuits, brought against him by British merchants engaged in the authorised trade at St. Eustatius, whose goods he had [264]impounded without discrimination. The Jamaica convoy got safe to port. Darby anchored at Spithead on the 22nd May.

On that very day Rodney was hurrying from Antigua to Barbadoes to make good the consequences of his mismanagement in March and April. On the 28th April the Comte de Grasse was seen coming round the southern end of Martinique, and now began a series of operations in which all the movements of the British fleet were dictated by the French admiral, and all led up to loss. Hood, held back to leeward by Rodney’s orders, the wind, the calm, and the current, could do nothing to prevent his opponent from hugging the shore and reaching Fort Royal with his warships and convoy. On the 29th Grasse was joined by the four line-of-battle ships in the fort. On that day, on the 30th and on the 1st May, encounters took place between the two fleets. Grasse, having ulterior objects to achieve, would not allow himself to be drawn into close action. The well-trained French captains of guns made excellent practice. Several of Hood’s ships suffered severe damage in their spars, and one, the Russell, 74, was badly injured on the water-line. All of course were proportionately disabled for working to windward. Hood, finding himself outmatched in force and his fleet diminished by damage, drew off to the north and sent the injured Russell into St. Eustatius. She reached it on the 4th May, and brought Rodney the first news that Grasse had reached Martinique. He sailed to join Hood on the 6th with the two ships of the line he had kept with him, and on the 9th joined his subordinate between Montserrat and Antigua. Injuries to ships and want of stores made it necessary for him to take the whole fleet to the dockyard at Antigua.

Grasse, having the Caribbean Sea open before him, free to go where he pleased and strike where he chose, left Fort Royal on the 9th May to retake Santa Lucia. The attack was made on the 11th and 12th without success. The strength of the British posts on Pigeon Island, the Morne Fortuné, and the Vigil enabled General St. Leger to hold out. He was aided by a small squadron under Commodore Linzee. The discovery that the British posts were strong, and apprehension that Rodney might appear, induced the French admiral to embark the soldiers he had landed and return to Fort [265]Royal. Rodney was indeed at sea, and had steered to assist Santa Lucia. He received news of the retreat of the enemy when near Barbadoes on the 23rd May. As that island was ill prepared for an attack, and his fleet still in need of stores with many sick in the crews, Rodney anchored in Carlisle Bay. Grasse had decided to fly at lesser game, and was content to retake Tobago. An advance squadron of his fleet first appeared off the island. It had been detached before the attack—which the French historians, with some economy of truth, call a false attack—on Santa Lucia. Colonel Ferguson, the Governor of Tobago, appealed for help to Rodney, and the admiral, who received the message on the 27th May, sent Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Drake on the 29th with three ships of the line, three frigates, and three sloops to his assistance. Hardly was Drake out of sight before news came that Grasse had sailed on the 22nd from Fort Royal apparently bound for Tobago. Rodney was in no small anxiety for his subordinate, but Drake, who sighted the whole French fleet off Tobago on the 30th, retreated in time. The French had landed at Great Courland Bay on the 24th, and Ferguson, who had but four hundred men and some armed blacks, retreated into the hills, hoping to hold out till Rodney could come. But Bouillé arrived on the 31st May. He was ever a partisan of “thorough,” and well knew there was no time to waste. By his orders two plantations were fired in terrorem, and the clamours of the planters, who formed a large part of his force, compelled the governor to surrender on the 2nd June. When Rodney came from Barbadoes on the 3rd the mischief was done. Until the 9th both fleets manœuvred along the string of small islands called the Grenadines, till Rodney, finding that he could not bring his enemy to close action, returned to Barbadoes, and Grasse went north to Fort Royal.

Strenuous futility continued to be the note of the operations on both sides. The end of all this display of force by Grasse had been the transfer of a small island from England to France. In Paris there was indeed a very general belief that Grasse had not done enough. His nephew, who carried home his despatches reporting the operations off Fort Royal from the 29th April to 1st May, had a very cold reception from the king. The admiral’s excuse that the British ships [266]were all coppered and sailed better than his own was grimly received. If we are to accept it the French officer deserved high credit for baffling Rodney’s efforts to bring him to battle between the 3rd and 9th June—credit, that is, for skill if not for high spirit. The English reader may be excused for not accepting it at once, for, if it is well founded, Rodney was grievously to blame for allowing himself to be baffled. But this lament of want of speed is heard on both sides, till we are almost forced to regard it as a standing excuse. Sir George’s failure can be sufficiently explained by the fact that his mind had been clouded by a passion of avarice at St. Eustatius, and that his health was breaking down. He was not free either in body or mind to give minute attention to his command. His solitary habits grew on him, and his second in command, Hood, angered by the distant hauteur of his chief, paid sullen and exact obedience to orders and held his peace. In his letters he repaid himself by scornful invective.

On his return to Fort Royal Grasse prepared for the vigorous campaign which was to redeem his reputation and to decide the war in North America. All through the war Washington had been eagerly pressing for a combined attack on the British forces either in New York or in the South, and Grasse had orders to co-operate. Washington would have preferred the first, but when he found that the French preferred the second he accepted the alternative. Grasse left Fort Royal on the 5th July for Cape Français (now Cape Haytien) in San Domingo, taking with him a convoy of 200 merchant ships. At Cape Français he received the pressing appeals of Washington and the French authorities to come on to North America with ships, troops, and bullion. The ships he had, and he increased them by taking the vessels already at Cape Français which were destined to convoy the trade home. The merchant ships were ordered to remain in the colony till the next season—a bold measure, which would probably have been beyond the courage of a British admiral who served a commercial state. Three thousand two hundred troops with ten field pieces and a siege train were lent him by M. de Lillancourt, governor of Saint Domingo. Bullion he could not obtain in the French colony. An appeal to the Spaniards at [267]Havana produced about £60,000. On the 28th July Grasse sent the Concorde frigate with the announcement that he was coming, and on the 5th August he sailed through the Bahama Channel for the Chesapeake, carrying the troops in his warships so as not to be hampered by transports.

Rodney was informed by Captain Forde of La Nymphe, who had seen the French at sea on the 5th July, that Grasse had sailed. He at once concluded that the French admiral was bound to the coast of America, and he prepared to reinforce the British squadron on the station. For himself he could not go. His health had broken down, and it was impossible for him to face an autumn campaign in the searching cold of the North. He handed over his command to Hood with orders to take fourteen sail of the line to America, and then on the 1st August sailed with a convoy for Europe.

All now began to move to the decisive point at Yorktown. Arbuthnot had resigned his command and had gone home on the 2nd July. His successor, Rear-Admiral Graves, began by sending information to Rodney that the French fleet was believed to be coming from the West Indies. Then leaving Captain Edmond Affleck at New York he went to sea himself with six ships of the line, to intercept reinforcements from Europe for the enemy, to cover the movements of our own convoys, to watch Boston, and, if possible, to meet whatever ships Rodney might send him from the West Indies. Sir George had acted, as we have seen, on his own initiative, and had sent the sloop Swallow to report the approaching arrival of Hood. The Swallow reached New York on the 27th July, and was sent on by Affleck to meet Graves at sea. She unhappily fell in with two privateers, by whom she was driven on shore and destroyed. The Active, sent by Hood to report that he was coming, was also taken, and neither message reached Graves. Hearing nothing, and being in want of stores, the admiral returned to Sandy Hook on the 16th August. Hood in the meantime had sailed from Antigua on the 10th August, and on the 27th he was off the Chesapeake. Finding no British force there he went on to Sandy Hook on the 28th. Forty-eight hours after he had gone Grasse arrived with twenty-eight sail of the line, and two 50-gun ships. He anchored at [268]Lynn Haven. Thus Lord Cornwallis, who had been compelled to evacuate the Carolinas, and had marched through Virginia to Yorktown, where all his troops were collected by the 22nd August, was cut off from communication with New York by sea, while Washington, with the American troops, and Rochambeau, with the French, were gathering round him by land.

Whether he could have been saved from the superior forces collecting about him is perhaps doubtful. Whatever chance he had was lost through want of aid from General Clinton in New York, who continued to believe that he, and not Cornwallis, would be attacked. The violent controversy between the generals does not require to be dealt with here. On the return of Graves, Clinton urged him to attack the French squadron at Newport. The admiral had, however, to reprovision his ships, and he received two pieces of information in quick succession which disposed of any plan for an attack on Newport. On the 16th August La Nymphe joined him with the report that Hood was on his way, and a few days later he learnt that the French squadron, commanded since the 6th May by the Chef d’escadre Barras de San Laurent who had superseded Destouches, had sailed to the southward. When Hood appeared off the bar of Sandy Hook, Graves came out to join him on the 1st September, and their united forces steered for the Chesapeake to intercept Barras. On the 5th September the British fleet of twenty-one sail of the line was off Cape Henry, and the advance ship, the Solebay, signalled the presence of a French fleet in Lynn Haven. Admiral Graves formed his line of battle and stood on. Grasse shipped his cables and stood out with twenty-four of the line, forming his array as he went. When the two were nearly opposite one another, the British to windward in a fine breeze from the N.N.E., Graves wore his fleet together, and bore down on the enemy, both lines being on the port tack and heading to sea. A sudden shift of the wind and a shoal called the Middle Ground hampered the movements of the fleets. The British line was not all brought into action, for it struck on the enemy at an angle, thus only the van under Rear-Admiral Drake was closely engaged. The rear under Hood might have brought the enemy to close action if it had been allowed to break the line. But [269]Graves adhered to the old rule which prescribes the maintenance of the same formation throughout a battle. So the French were once more allowed to slip away after crippling several ships of the British van, and damaging one, the Terrible, 74, so severely that it was found necessary to take her men and stores out, and set her on fire on the 11th. Both fleets remained out for some days without again coming to action. On the 9th Grasse returned to Lynn Haven. During his absence Barras had slipped in with six sail of the line, bringing with him the battering train about to be used against Cornwallis at Yorktown. He found two British frigates, detached by Graves to cut away the buoys left by Grasse on his anchors, and captured them both. After destroying the Terrible, Graves looked into the Chesapeake again, and finding the enemy too strong to be attacked, sailed away to Sandy Hook, which he reached on the 19th September. Cornwallis was left to his fate. Graves was joined on the 24th by Rear-Admiral Digby with three sail of the line, and the news of his appointment to the Jamaica station, and a few days later by two other ships from the West Indies. He sailed on the 17th October on a forlorn effort to save Cornwallis, who had been forced to surrender on that very day. The British fleet looked again into the Chesapeake, saw that all was over, and returned to Sandy Hook. Graves then handed over the command to his successor, Digby, and left for his new station.

The fall of Yorktown was the practical end of the war in North America. While Cornwallis’s army was undergoing its fate, the allies had made another idle demonstration at the mouth of the Channel. Thirty-six sail of the line, under Don Luis de Córdoba, appeared at its entrance early in August, while thirteen others cruised on the coast of Ireland to intercept trade. Darby, weakened by the departure of Digby for America, was with difficulty reinforced to thirty sail, and had to lie at anchor in Torbay. The allies, who had come on the very tardy reflection that the best way to prevent relief to Gibraltar or Minorca was to watch the mouth of the Channel, did not dare to attack him. They feared to be crushed in detail if they attacked in line ahead, and were persuaded they had no room (they might have been persuaded [270]that they had no seamanship), to attack in line abreast. On the 14th September Darby put to sea to make an effort, and found the enemy gone. They had in fact separated on the 5th September in wretched health. The French went home to Brest, the Spaniards to Cadiz, whence eighteen of the least inefficient of them sailed under Don Miguel Gaston to escort the treasure ships from America. In the absence of an enemy the service was successfully performed. Darby remained at sea till November to protect trade.



Authorities.Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, by Beatson; Naval Chronology, by Isaac Schomberg; Memoirs and Correspondence of Lord de Saumarez, by Ross; Life and Correspondence of Rodney, by Mundy; Life of Viscount Keppel, by T. Keppel; An Essay on Naval Tactics, by Clerk; Naval Battles of Great Britain, by Ekins; “Letters of Sir Samuel Hood,” by Hannay, in Navy Records Society Publications; Naval Researches, by White; Plans of Battles of the War, by Matthews; Life of Howe, by Barrow; La Marine française, by Chevalier; Batailles navales de la France, by Troude; Journal de Bord du Bailli de Suffren, by Moris; Histoire du Bailli de Suffren, by Cunat; Siege of Gibraltar, by Drinkwater; Sea Power in History, by Mahan; Het Nederlandsche Zeewezen, by De Jonghe; Marins et Soldats français en Amerique, by the Vicomte de Noailles; La Marine Militaire de la France sous le règne de Louis XVI., by Lacour-Gayet.

The independence of the United States had been secured and a great blow struck at England by the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. The allies had now to secure prizes for themselves. Gibraltar was to be taken in Europe and Jamaica conquered in the West Indies. On the 4th November 1781 Grasse sailed from the Chesapeake for Martinique, where he anchored on the 25th. On that day his unresting military colleague, Bouillé, pounced in his characteristically feline style on St. Eustatius. He landed where no landing was expected. The red coats of the Irish regiment of Dillon, which formed part of his force, disarmed suspicion, all the more easily because no watch was kept. The Governor was splashing in his bath when the French came down upon him, and so the loss of St. Eustatius was added to the chapter of regrettable incidents. Grasse and Bouillé were now free to push their enterprises against the British West Indies, opposed for the time being only by the inferior fleet under Hood, who had sailed from Sandy Hook on the [272]11th November and had reached Barbadoes on the 5th December. The French officers had been instructed to expect reinforcements to be brought to them from Europe by Vaudreuil. If strengthened in the way promised they would have held a commanding position. The French Government took measures to keep its word, but its plans were shattered by a brilliant stroke of vigilance and activity delivered by the British Navy.

It was known in London that a great force was in preparation at Brest, and measures were taken to intercept it at its starting place. On the 2nd December, Kempenfelt, who had succeeded Digby as second in command in the Channel, left Spithead with twelve sail of the line and one 50-gun ship. The calculation was sound, and Kempenfelt sailed in good time, but the force given him might well have proved insufficient. Guichen left Brest on the 10th December with nineteen sail of the line and a convoy carrying troops. His orders were to detach Vaudreuil to the West Indies with five sail and the transports, to send two to the East Indies, to post La Motte Picquet with two others where he would meet the trade coming home from San Domingo, and to take the others to Gibraltar. Kempenfelt had been delayed by the weather, but on the 12th December he sighted the French 150 miles to W.S.W. of Ushant. They were to the southward of him in a south-easterly wind. Guichen and the warships were ahead on Kempenfelt’s lee or starboard bow as he came down on the port tack. The transports and merchant ships were directly behind Guichen and were therefore uncovered. Haze and fog, with clear intervals, surrounded both fleets and hid the approach of the English, but the French admiral’s disposition was unpardonable. He ought to have kept his convoy to leeward of him. If Kempenfelt had been an unenterprising man he might have hesitated to attack where he was menaced by a superior force, but he was as bold as he was seamanlike, and he did not hesitate to punish his opponent for his error. He dashed straight on in a general chase, each ship going at her best speed with frigates and two deckers ahead, swept past the stern of the French warships, and broke into the convoy. Fifteen transports were captured, with 1062 soldiers on board. The rest scattered in terror. Guichen, [273]confused by the consequences of his own want of foresight, and perhaps by the fog, allowed his opponent to collect his warships, which had been separated by the chase, and to round up his prizes before night. Kempenfelt detached Captain Caldwell in the Agamemnon with La Prudente to pursue the convoy. Five more fell into Captain Caldwell’s hands. Guichen returned rather piteously to Brest, and the blow delivered to the W.S.W. of Ushant was felt by Grasse in the West Indies. Kempenfelt anchored at Spithead on the 20th December.

He was a man to be remembered for this fine feat, for a long career of good service, and for his efforts to provide the navy with a better code of signals. He is remembered because he was the admiral whose flagship, the Royal George, went down at Spithead on the 29th August 1782, carrying with her Kempenfelt, most of his officers, hundreds of seamen, and also very many women with some children, the families of the men. They were allowed to remain on board while the ship was fitting for sea. The Royal George was receiving a parliamentary heel, that is to say she was weighed down on her side at the anchorage in order to clean her partially below the water line. According to the explanation which satisfied the Admiralty, she sank because the water ran in at the ports. But the navy, which indeed was rarely charitable in its judgment of the Admiralty, was of opinion that a piece fell out of her side under the strain, for she was notoriously rotten. It was said that the decision not to attempt to raise her was due to the prudent resolution of My Lords that the truth should not be revealed. She had been built in 1756.

Though disappointed of the reinforcement promised him, Grasse was still much stronger than Hood. He could collect twenty-nine sail, while the English officer could only hope to muster twenty-two—until Rodney returned from Europe. On the 5th January 1782 he left Fort Royal on an expedition against the British islands, St. Christopher and Nevis. Hood at Barbadoes was informed on the 8th that the French were at sea. Scouts were despatched to observe their movements, but it was not till the 14th that a letter from General Shirley, Governor of St. Christopher, told Hood that they had been seen off Nevis, and that their destination became clear. Hood [274]sailed at once for Antigua. He had twenty-one sail of the line with him, but expected to be raised to twenty-two by the junction of the President. With this force, inferior in number as it was to the French fleet, “I beg you will assure their Lordships,” so he wrote to Sandwich on the 20th January, “I will seek and give battle to the Count de Grasse, be his numbers as they may.” The promise was given on the 20th January. On the 21st, Hood was at Antigua. On the 22nd, he embarked General Prescott with a detachment of troops, and sailed in search of the French.

The little island of Nevis lies directly west of Antigua. To the north, and separated from it by the shallow strait appropriately called the Narrows, is the larger island of St. Christopher, commonly called St. Kitts. The capital of St. Kitts, Basseterre, is on the south-western side of the island. Here Grasse had anchored on the 11th January and had landed soldiers, who drove Governor Shirley and General Fraser, the officer in command of the troops and island militia, to take refuge on Brimston Hill, close to the shore north-west of Basseterre. During the night of the 23rd Hood rounded the south point of Nevis, running before the easterly trade. It was his intention to fall on the van of the French at daybreak on the 24th, and crush it at anchor. But during the night a careless officer of the watch in the Alfred ruined himself and the admiral’s plan by running into the Nymphe. The Alfred was damaged, and delay was caused by the necessity to repair her. Before Hood could approach the anchorage of Grasse he was seen, and the Frenchman put to sea with his twenty-nine sail of the line. Hood, whose first object was to land Prescott, anchored his fleet on the tail of a bank to the south-east of the position just left by Grasse. As his ships stood in they were attacked by the French in a half-hearted way. The operation was carried out on the 25th, after a day and night of weary manœuvring, in which Hood kept the advantage of position, and Grasse put his fingers to the plough as if he thought it would burn them. On the 26th he made two feeble attacks on Hood, and then stood off. Reinforcements came in and raised his force to thirty-six sail of the line, but he did not come on again. He only remained cruising and watching till the 14th February.


In the meantime Prescott had landed and had made an effort to relieve Brimston Hill. He was beaten back by Bouillé with superior numbers. As it was obvious that they could do nothing, the troops were embarked on the 29th and sent off to Antigua. Hood maintained his anchorage till all hope was gone. The planters of St. Kitts had suffered severely by Rodney’s confiscations at St. Eustatius, and were sulky. They had not even mounted the twelve 24-pounders and two mortars given them for their protection. These pieces fell into Bouillé’s hands, and were used against Brimston Hill. When the Frenchman found the siege of the hill slow work, he took to his usual course of burning the plantations. The planters raised a clamour, and under pressure from them Shirley offered to capitulate on the 13th February. On the 14th, Hood having done all that in him lay, summoned his captains to the flagship, instructed them to set their watches by his, and to get under way at ten that night. The fleet slipped off quietly, and without interruption from Grasse, round the north end of St. Kitts. There is no finer passage of combined caution and daring in the war. We had lost the islands, but Grasse had thrown away the chance to crush the English ships. He no doubt wished to preserve his own ships for their ulterior purpose, the conquest of Jamaica. While tendering them he inevitably allowed the escape of Hood’s ships, which were to have a conspicuous share in ruining that ulterior purpose in the following April. Between such opponents, only the fitting occasion was required to show beyond all peradventure where the superiority lay.

The occasion was at hand. Hood reached Antigua on the 19th February. On the 22nd he left for Barbadoes, and met at sea Rodney, who had reached that island on the 19th. Rodney had left Plymouth on the 14th January with twelve sail of the line. He had beaten out of the Channel in the teeth of the wind, and had rounded Ushant in a gale which sent the waves over the deck of his flagship, the Namur. He came back to his command somewhat restored in health by an operation he had undergone at Bath, but more aged, more secluded, than ever, and he had to bring with him a private doctor, Gilbert Blane. Blane should be mentioned with honour in every history of the navy, for he did much excellent [276]work in introducing into our ships that cleanliness which means health, which again means efficiency and the power to endure. The improvement in this respect was already great. Our fleets in the West Indies presented a spectacle such as would have filled the seamen of Queen Anne with amazement. They were showing that it was possible to keep the crews long at sea on that sickly station and yet preserve them more free from disease than in port and at home.

Rodney took his united command to Gros Islet Bay, in Santa Lucia, and there settled down to watch Grasse, who had returned to Fort Royal on the 26th February. The next move of the French was a secret to nobody. Grasse was to ship Bouillé with his soldiers, to go to San Domingo and there pick up more French ships and soldiers. Then he was to be joined by the Spaniards from Cuba, and the whole force was to fall on Jamaica. The success of this large scheme depended wholly on the ability of Grasse to get away with his ships and men from Martinique. It was Rodney’s duty to see that he did not, and under the veil of disease and premature age weighing on him, he was resolute to do that duty. He did not forget the exhortation of Sandwich, that he carried the fate of the empire in his hands, and he meant to bear his charge worthily. Therefore he kept strict watch. Neither man nor officer landed except on duty, and a line of frigates kept the French under observation. The watch lasted till the 8th April, when Captain Byron of the Andromache frigate came into Gros Islet Bay with the news that the French were getting to sea. Before noon the fleet was at sea, and standing to the north in pursuit of the enemy.

Of the two fleets about to engage in the greatest and the most decisive encounter of the war, the English was the stronger. Sir Charles Douglas, Rodney’s captain of the fleet, did indeed endeavour to show by comparisons of tonnage and guns that the French though outnumbered were materially stronger than ourselves. But our guns were heavy enough to shatter our enemy, and there were more of them. Moreover, the great improvements in gunnery introduced by Douglas himself, and other captains, constituted an element of superiority far more valuable than any mere weight of the pieces. The average skill of our officers and men was higher [277]than the French. Finally, and this was a very important consideration indeed, the French admiral was hampered by a great convoy. He was compelled to detach the two 50-gun ships out of his total force of thirty-three ships of the line, to guard his transports. Two of his liners were disabled by accident on the evening of the 11th April. Rodney’s thirty-six ships of the line were all free for fighting alone, and he lost none by mismanagement.

During the night of the 8th April the two fleets stood to the north, past the island of Martinique, and along the west side of Dominica. On the morning of the 9th, fifteen of the French ships of the line had worked clear of the land, and were in the “true breeze” blowing through the Saints Channel—the straits between Dominica and Guadaloupe. The others and the transports were in the belt of calms under the west side of the island. Sir Samuel Hood with nine ships of the English van had worked up as far as the leading French. The others were becalmed under the land. The Comte de Grasse had now a magnificent opportunity to crush a part of his opponent’s fleet when it could not be supported. He made, however, only a very half-hearted attack on Hood, cannonading his ships at a respectful distance from windward, and doing little damage except to the spars. As the other British ships worked up he grew still more timid, and the evening came before any decided result had been obtained. From the evening of the 9th to the evening of the 11th the two fleets continued to struggle with the wind or want of it, rather than with one another. Grasse succeeded in working his convoy out from under the shadow of Dominica, and sending it to Guadaloupe protected by the two 50-gun ships. Two of his liners were disabled by bad seamanship. Yet on the evening of the 11th he had so far succeeded in his manœuvres to avoid battle that the bulk of his ships were through the passage. Rodney prevented his attempt to get away by ordering “a general chase.” His quickest vessels were allowed to sail at their best speed, and soon overtook the laggards among the French. Grasse was compelled to call his whole fleet back to cover the menaced vessels, and at nightfall both fleets were to westward of the passage again. During the night the Zélé, 74, ran into the French flagship, and [278]was severely damaged. It was necessary to send her in tow of a frigate to Guadaloupe. When day broke on the 12th, the fleets were so placed that Grasse could no longer avoid a battle. The French were to the north of Rodney, and both fleets were in the easterly trade wind. Ships were sent from the British van to pursue the crippled Zélé on her way to Guadaloupe. Grasse, to cover her, called down the ships to windward of his flag, and began to form his line. Sir George, who had been roused in the morning by the flag-captain with the welcome news that “God had given him his enemy on the lee bow,” made prompt answer to the preparations of the Frenchman. Time would have been lost by waiting for the return of the ships pursuing the Zélé. The rear, therefore, was ordered to lead into action. The last ship in the line stretched up towards the French, the next fell in behind her, and so on till the order of the fleet was reversed; the rear became the van and the van the rear, the pursuing ships taking their places as they returned. The fleets approached one another on a converging line forming an obtuse angle, the French having the wind on the port, and the British on the starboard side. Rodney’s order to engage the enemy close to leeward was hoisted at about 8 a.m. The leading ship of his line reached the third in the French at 7.45 a.m., and then bearing up, began to pass along the French line on the lee side. Others followed in their order, and the two went past one another slowly, the English in excellent order, firing rapidly and steadily, the French in ragged disorder, fighting gallantly but at a growing disadvantage. When the leading English ship had just passed the last French, and the two lines were side by side from end to end, there occurred the movement which gives this battle its peculiar importance in naval history.

The action had lasted for about two hours, and the confusion in the French fleet had been increased by the shift of the wind to the southward, which forced the head of the line towards the English. A great gap was formed in the formation of the French astern of the seventeenth ship. Sir Charles Douglas, who saw the opening, urged Rodney to pass through it and cut the French line. The movement was easy, for the English ships were not close-hauled, and by putting the helm down could pass to windward through the opening. Sir [279]George hesitated before assuming the responsibility of departing from the rule that an admiral should not alter the formation in which he began an action. On the second and urgent appeal of his captain of the fleet, he consented to make the movement. The helm of his flagship, the Formidable, 100, was put down, and she passed through the enemy, followed by the vessels immediately astern of her. One of the vessels ahead, the Namur, 90, followed the admiral’s example. All the ships of the English line, counting from the last of the centre to the rear, passed through another gap in the French, in the smoke, without knowing what they had done till they found themselves to windward of the enemy. Thus the fleet of the Comte de Grasse was broken into three fragments. The van bore on to the south. Six ships cut off in the centre turned westward. The rear ships were headed off from the isolated fragment of the centre.

The wind now fell, and the two fleets remained for a space motionless. When it rose again, the English streamed down on the isolated Frenchmen in the centre. They were surrounded, overpowered, and compelled to surrender. The flagship, the Ville de Paris, 100, was surrendered by Grasse after a long and gallant fight. It was the general opinion in the fleet that an insufficient use was made of the victory, and that twenty prizes might have been taken if Rodney had been more energetic. Sir Samuel Hood, a bitter judge of his superior, had some difficulty in obtaining leave to follow the enemy on the 18th April. He took three other prizes in the Mona Channel on the following day.

The battle of the 12th April, or of the Saints, or of Dominica, for it is known by all names, may be said to have been the end of the naval war in America; for no operations of any consequence took place there till the peace of the following year. The discontent of Rodney’s captains was not made public. To the nation which had seen no such success in the war hitherto, the victory appeared wholly glorious, and was a very natural subject of triumphant satisfaction. Rodney was made a peer of Great Britain, and Sir Samuel Hood received an Irish peerage. In naval history the battle is chiefly remarkable because it marked the end of the old formal, or rather pedantic, style of fighting established in the [280]seventeenth century. It showed naval officers by practical example that the way to win decisive victories was to break into the formation of the enemy, even if they did thereby sacrifice their own, and so bring about a mêlée in which individual superiority would have full play.

The war can now be wound up by a brief account of the final relief of Gibraltar and of the contemporary naval campaigns in the East Indies.

During September of 1782 Gibraltar received, and had repelled with ease, the last attack of the Spaniards and their French allies. Floating batteries, from which much had been expected, were brought against the fortress in vain. But as the allies were masters of the Straits, the garrison was in danger of being reduced by starvation. Reliefs of stores and men were urgently needed. The British Government was hard pressed to find ships for the service. A Dutch squadron was known to be ready for service in the Texel, and as the concentration of French and Spanish warships in front of Gibraltar made the employment of a large force necessary, the Ministry was in no small perplexity lest, while Gibraltar was being relieved, the coast of England should be attacked. But the Dutch were timid. The naval advisers of the Government, of whom Keppel, then at the head of the Admiralty, was one, convinced it that the risk was not great. Public opinion, too, would not have tolerated further delay. On the 11th September, two days before the final attack of the allies, Howe left Spithead with thirty-four sail of the line, eight frigates, and a number of fireships. He had under his protection a convoy of transports carrying provisions, military stores, and two regiments of infantry, the 25th and the 59th. Every effort had been made to provide the admiral with the best force the country could collect. But the navy was severely taxed to meet the calls made upon it. Many of the ships had been fitted out with difficulty, and though the best officers and men available were sent on the service, complaints were heard that the crews were made up by the inclusion of inferior elements. At a later period the condition of Howe’s fleet was the subject of an undignified squabble between him and Keppel.

Bad weather delayed the progress of the relieving fleet. [281]Howe was off Faro on the 9th of October. Here he heard of the failure of the attack on Gibraltar, and that the fortress was safe so far. Skilful management was still required to carry the transports into the harbour in face of the superior numbers of the enemy, and the obstacles caused by currents and winds. His iron nerve, his seamanship, and his mastery of the details of a great fleet qualified Howe for the work admirably. Yet even he could not have succeeded at all against efficient opponents, nor against such enemies as he had, if he had not been to some extent beholden to fortune. The help fortune gave him came in a shape which in no way diminished the honour due to his fleet. On the night of the 10th October it blew a heavy gale from the west. The awkward French and the more than awkward Spaniards suffered severely at their station in Algeciras Bay. One Spaniard was driven ashore, and lost, under the guns of Gibraltar. Some were dismasted, others were swept into the Mediterranean. The good seamanship of Howe’s officers and men showed once more that the winds and waves are in favour of the more skilful navigator. They contended successfully with the gale. By the evening of the 11th October the transports had been brought to the entrance of Gibraltar Bay, and the warships were to windward of them for their protection. A few only entered. The great bulk of the transports, unable to bear up against the westerly wind and the current which sets into the Mediterranean, were “back-strapped”—that is to say, they were carried past Gibraltar into the inland sea. Howe had to follow his charge as far as Fuengirola on the 12th. He collected the transports at the Zaforina Islands, and placed his warships to protect them. Don Luis de Córdoba, the Spanish admiral who commanded the allies, followed the English into the Mediterranean, not to seek battle, but only to cover those of his ships which had been driven to the eastward. Fog, rain, and the heavy groundswell following on the storm put the seamanship of naval officers and skippers of the transports to a severe test, but they were equal to their task. The wind had shifted to the N.E. during the night of the 15th. By the 18th victuallers and transports were safe in Gibraltar. On the 19th the enemy were seen to windward. Having relieved the fortress, Howe did not think proper to accept battle in the [282]narrow space between Ceuta and Europa Points. He stood into the Atlantic. Next day the allies, who were still to windward of him, made a feeble attack on the van and rear of his line. They then drew off. Howe, who had not absolute confidence in all his captains, and who was by nature rather resolute and exact than adventurous, played his game with caution. On the 21st the allies went off, and gave him no opportunity to strike with advantage. He remained cruising till the 28th October, when he detached Sir Richard Hughes with eight sail to the West Indies, and then steered home. He anchored at Spithead on the 14th November. He had done an admirable piece of service. If it was rather a triumph in the handling of a fleet and in seamanship than such a triumph in fighting as Nelson would have won twenty years later, we must remember that much had happened in the interval to give British officers a well justified confidence.

When the war died down on the Atlantic and in the West Indies, it was still being fiercely waged in the Bay of Bengal. In those waters it had flamed into energy only as it drew towards its final crisis and end elsewhere. Until 1782 the Eastern seas presented a languid scene. In 1778 England and France were alike feebly represented at sea to the east of the Cape. When the Company, hearing that war had begun in Europe, resolved to seize the French settlement of Pondicherry, it had a squadron at hand. One line-of-battle ship, the Ripon, 60, three small men-of-war of the Royal Navy, and one armed ship of the Company’s, constituted the whole force commanded by Sir Edward Vernon. The still weaker French squadron was at the Île de France. Vernon blockaded Pondicherry on the 8th August, in order to support Sir Hector Munro’s besieging army. On the 10th the French squadron appeared. It consisted of the Brillante, 64, two small ships of the king’s, and two armed merchant-vessels. A feebly conducted action ended by the separation of the combatants. The French commander, M. de Tronjolly, anchored at Pondicherry, and remained there till the 21st August. He brought no effective help, and when Vernon began to threaten him again, he slipped away, leaving Pondicherry to resist as it best could, till it was forced to surrender on honourable terms on the 16th October. The French had ceased to be rivals of England in [283]the East Indies, and would in all probability never have reappeared there, if the Company had not found a new and a most formidable enemy in Hyder Ali, the great Sultan of Mysore. Their few ships remained, partly by necessity, but not a little by the free choice of their officers, at and about the Cythera of the French Navy, the Île de France. Tronjolly was replaced in 1779 by M. D’Orves, who brought a 74-gun ship with him, L’Océan. In January 1781, D’Orves made a transient appearance on the coast of Coromandel. His tardy arrival and prompt departure served only to disappoint and anger Hyder Ali.

Vernon’s successor, Sir Edward Hughes, who came out in 1779 in the Superb, 74, had no French enemy to consider; but when the Dutch joined the enemies of England he co-operated with the Company’s forces in capturing all their posts on the Coromandel coast. On the 11th January 1782 he aided in the taking of Trincomalee, in Ceylon, where a capture of Dutch trading-ships laid the foundation of the great fortune he won during his command. On the 8th February he was back at Madras, and on the following day he was joined by Captain Alms, who brought with him the Monmouth, 64, Hero, 74, and Isis, 50, and also the news that a new and unwonted opponent was about to intrude on the solitary reign of the British forces in the Bay of Bengal.

It has been noted above that when Admiral Darby sailed from Spithead on the 13th March 1781 to relieve Gibraltar he had with him a squadron and a convoy carrying troops which were to be sent on for more distant service. These were the eight men-of-war commanded by “Governor” Johnstone, and the transports carrying troops under General Meadows. Their immediate object was to conquer the Dutch settlement at the Cape. The Dutch, aware of their own weakness, had appealed to the French Government for support. The French, willing to support their allies, and also hoping to inflict a severe blow on England by co-operating with Hyder Ali, gave their aid. When the Comte de Grasse sailed for the West Indies from Brest on the 22nd March 1781 he had with him five ships of the line and transports carrying troops which were to be detached—in the first place to rescue the Cape, and then to aid Hyder Ali. The French [284]squadron was commanded by the only officer of whom it can be said that he was the only “great captain” our navy had been called upon to meet since it had fought the Dutchman De Ruyter one hundred and ten years before.

Pierre André de Suffren de Saint-Tropez, born in 1729 at St. Cannat in Provence—in the modern department of the Bouches du Rhone—was the third son of the Marquis de Saint-Tropez. Like many other younger sons of Provençal families, he was provided for by being placed in the Order of Malta (i.e. St. John of Jerusalem), and also in the French Navy. He became a Garde de la marine in 1743, and from that day till 1781 had been in almost constant service either in the French Navy or in “the caravans of the Religion,” as the cruises of the galleys of Malta in the Levant and on the coast of Africa were officially called. He had taken part in nearly all the few successes and the most conspicuous disasters of the French Navy for some forty years. His reputation as a good practical seaman and vigorous officer was undisputed. His experience had given him a fiery scorn for the pedantic tactics of his generation. They were in his opinion merely decent cloaks for timidity. In 1781 he was still only Knight of the Order, and had not as yet received the dignified office of Bailli of Provence, from which came his popular name of “the Bailli.”

On the 29th March, Suffren parted from the main fleet of the Comte de Grasse when in the latitude of the Azores. He was soon aware that Commodore Johnstone was ahead of him. A Portuguese fishing-boat spoken by one of his squadron informed him that the English squadron had passed. It must have appeared very doubtful to Suffren whether he could hope to overtake and pass it. Several of his transports were heavy sailers, and some of his ships were in want of water. In order to procure more, it was necessary to make for the Portuguese island St. Iago, in the Cape de Verd Islands, and to anchor at Porto Praya, on the south side. On the 16th April the French squadron came round the south-east point of the island in straggling order. One of their ships was towing a transport. As the harbour came in sight the leading French vessel saw that it was full of ships and that several of them were men-of-war. Johnstone had, in fact, [285]anchored at Porto Praya on the 11th of the month, in a slovenly and unofficerlike way, with his transports and warships confusedly mingled. If Suffren had been an orthodox French officer of the stamp of Guichen, he would have seen an excellent opportunity to “fulfil his mission,” and would have hurried on, prepared to risk suffering from want of water, in hope to reach the Cape first. Suffren reasoned as Hawke would have done. What he saw was an admirable opportunity to cripple Johnstone, and he attacked. That his own squadron was not in hand was to him a small matter. It was ten in the morning, and he calculated that many of the English sailors would be ashore in search of water and stores. The confusion of Johnstone’s squadron was obvious. Suffren saw that the rain was falling on the just and the unjust, and he struck his blow. For the neutrality of Portugal he showed no more respect than had been shown by Boscawen when he pursued La Clue into the waters of Lagos, where Suffren, then a lieutenant in L’Océan, had been taken prisoner.

The action of Porto Praya is one which is at once difficult to tell in detail but easily summed up. Five vessels composed his command—Le Héros, 74 (flagship), L’Annibal, 74, Le Vengeur, 64, L’Artésien, 64, and Le Sphinx, 64. When he stood in at the head of his squadron, L’Annibal and L’Artésien were close to Le Héros. Suffren could not lie to for the Vengeur and Sphinx, lest he should be carried to the leeward by wind and current. He struck in at once among the huddle of Johnstone’s squadron, composed of the Hero, 74, Monmouth, 64, Romney, 50 (flagship), Jupiter, 50, and Isis, 50, and three frigates, which were mixed with East Indiamen and transports. There was a wild scene of cannonading, collisions, boardings and attempts to board, in which the three ships which were closely engaged did, and suffered, much damage. They were not in force to overpower Johnstone, and the Sphinx and Vengeur not only came up late, but did not press their attack close. After a couple of hours’ hot work, Suffren cut his cables and left the anchor he had dropped to hold him in position during his attack. He was followed out by the Annibal and Artésien and the East Indiaman Hinchinbroke, which had been captured. Johnstone followed his opponent at leisure [286]and timidly. The Hinchinbroke was retaken, but no zeal was shown to renew the action. Johnstone, a blustering, pamphleteering man of no reputation as an officer, made an attempt to conceal his own want of conduct and spirit by bringing Captain Sutton of the Isis to a court martial, by which he was honourably acquitted, and the two fought a series of lawsuits.

Though his attack failed to achieve victory, it showed the English naval officers that in Suffren they had an opponent of an enterprising spirit rare in the accomplished service to which he belonged. He had so far gained his object that Johnstone remained at Porto Praya repairing damages till the 1st May. In the meantime the French officer pushed on, and reached the Cape on the 21st June. The troops he landed under the command of Count Conway were sufficient to garrison the Dutch settlement against the English expedition. While Suffren was refitting at False Bay, the English squadron appeared on the coast. It made no attempt to assail the French squadron or the colony, but several Dutch East Indiamen which had anchored in Saldanha Bay were captured on the 22nd of July. After cruising for a time off the Cape, Johnstone sent Captain Alms to India, and went first to Saint-Helena, and then home. On the 26th August Suffren left the Cape for Port Louis, which he reached on the 25th October.

The French squadron, composed of the ships already in the islands and those brought out by Suffren, sailed from Port Louis on the 7th December 1781. It consisted of L’Orient, 74, Le Héros, 74, L’Annibal, 74, Le Sévère, 64, Le Bizarre, 64, Le Vengeur, 64, Le Sphinx, 64, L’Artésien, 64, L’Ajax, 64, Le Brillant, 64, Le Flamand, 64, together with seven frigates, sloops, and gunboats. The command was held by M. D’Orves; but Suffren, who though only capitaine de vaisseau, had local rank in the Indies as Chef d’escadre, was appointed to succeed on the death or resignation of his superior. D’Orves, whose health was ruined, broke down in the Bay of Bengal, resigned his command on the 3rd February 1782, and died on the 9th. On the 3rd, therefore, Suffren was again in command. His struggle with the naval power of England lasted till the news of the peace reached him on the 29th June 1783. During [287]those seventeen months he fought the five actions on which the French dwell with pride, for they constitute the most glorious passage in the history of their navy. It is true that he took no English ship in any of them and that he failed to achieve the object he fought for. Yet we cannot but see the greatness of the man. “Brave Suffren must return from Hyder Ally and the Indian Waters; with small results; yet with great glory for six non defeats; which indeed, with such seconding as he had, one may reckon heroic.” Carlyle includes Porto Praya to make the tale of six, and he says the final word of any just judgment on “the Bailli.” If ever a man lived who justified Napoleon’s maxim that war is an affair not of men but of a man, it was he. It was by his personal merit that his squadron came to the very verge of winning a triumphant success. That he failed was due to the fact that the French Navy, in spite of the tardy efforts of the ministers of Louis XVI., was honeycombed by the intellectual and moral vices which were bringing France to the great Revolution—corruption, self-seeking, acrid class insolence, and skinless, morbid vanity. On its way from the islands the squadron fell in with and captured the English Hannibal, 50. One of her officers was placed as a prisoner on parole in the mess of the French Bizarre. An officer of the regiment of Austrasie, which was being carried by the squadron to aid Hyder Ali, the Chevalier de Mautort, says in his Memoirs that this officer was a cheerful young gentleman who did not speak four words of French, but made himself very pleasant. Withal he showed his professional zeal by keeping an alert watch on all that went on about him, and, adds the Frenchman, he cannot have been greatly impressed by the way our work was done. A man can gain no higher praise than this, that he raised the institution he belonged to above itself—and so much Suffren did. The English force opposed to him was to show how the virtues of an institution can atone for the deficiencies of a commonplace chief and baffle the genius of an enemy. When the great captain is found in command of the superior force, then we have the victories of Nelson.

The object of the French officer was to obtain such a position on the coast of Coromandel as would strengthen the [288]hands of his Government when the time came to make peace. In order to do this, he aimed first at destroying the squadron of Hughes, then at obtaining possession of a port or ports where he could land men, both those he had with him and those whom he knew to be coming from Europe to aid Hyder Ali, and also to refit his own ships. On the 13th February 1782 he appeared off Madras with twelve sail of the line—the eleven which had come from the Île de France, and the Hannibal taken from the English, and now turned into a French warship. Hughes was at anchor there with nine sail of the line. To have attacked him at anchor would have been dangerous and unnecessary, since the departure of the French to the south, as if to attack Trincomalee, would be sure to draw the English admiral out.

Suffren acted on that calculation with success. He stood to the south, and was followed by Hughes. One of the subordinate French captains in charge of the convoy of transports and prizes accompanying the French fleet was so careless as to allow them to fall to leeward of the battleships, where they were between Suffren and Hughes. Six of them, including one which carried 300 soldiers, were captured. On the 17th February Suffren, who was to windward of the English squadron, which was heading to the south, bore down on it from N.E. He led his squadron and ranged along the weather-side of the English till he reached the fifth ship. It was his wish and his order that those of his vessels which could not find room on the windward side of their enemy should pass to leeward, and so put him between two fires. He was ill obeyed. Only two of his rear ships did as they ought, and several never came into action. Yet he did carry out a concentration of superior on inferior numbers. The fifth English vessel which he engaged was the Superb, 74, Hughes’ flagship. She and the ships astern of her suffered severely. The last ship in the English line, the Exeter, 64, carrying the broad pennant of Commodore King, was cut to pieces. The conduct of the commodore partly explains why the good management of Suffren was balked of its reward. He had been covered by the blood of his flag-captain, Reynolds, who was cut in two by a cannon-shot at his side. His ship was battered by two enemies, and a third appeared to [289]be about to join them. One of his officers asked him what was to be done. “There is nothing to be done,” said King, “but to fight till she sink.” The rest of the explanation must be sought in the fact that, as Suffren told the Minister of Marine in a moment of bitterness, the French officers who had spent years in the Cythera of the Île de France, leading idle, self-indulgent lives ashore, and intent on trading ventures called “la pacotille” (peddling), were neither officers nor seamen. Finding that he was not backed up as he should have been, Suffren drew off at dark. He had to some extent attained his object. The Superb and the Exeter were so badly mauled that Hughes went off before the northerly wind then blowing to refit at Trincomalee. While he was absent, Suffren went to Porto Novo to establish relations with Hyder Ali on the 21st February, and on the 4th April the troops he had landed took Cuddalore. This is a passage in naval history which should be remembered when we hear of the necessity for naval bases. It shows that a victorious fleet will soon supply itself with a base.

While Suffren was making himself master of Cuddalore, Hughes was endeavouring to secure the safety of Trincomalee. He left it on the 4th March, came to Madras, when he was reinforced by two of the line, and went back with soldiers and stores. Suffren having put matters on as good a footing as he could at Cuddalore, followed Hughes to Ceylon. On the 12th April, the date on which Rodney defeated Grasse in the West Indies, another battle was fought in the east. Again Suffren attacked, and this time, more as it seems by accident than from good management, he concentrated a superior force on an inferior, falling with three vessels on the Superb, and the ship ahead of her, the Monmouth, 64. Both were severely cut up, but as on the former occasion several of the French captains were shy or awkward. The fleets separated without loss of a ship on either side, and anchored near one another on the coast of Ceylon. Suffren was first at sea on the 17th, and offered battle on the 19th; but Hughes declined. Then the Frenchman went to Batticaloa to refit, and thence back to the Coromandel coast. Hughes, after stopping at Trincomalee, followed him. The two continued watching and waiting an opportunity till the 6th July, when Hughes, [290]for the first and last time, attacked his opponent. The battle, which was fought near Negapatam, was notable for the fact that it may be said to have been blown out by a sudden shift of the wind, which headed both fleets, and threw them into complete confusion. In the disorder of the close the French Sévère was surrounded by English ships, and her captain, M. de Cillart, ordered his flag to be struck. It was hoisted again by his subordinates, and the Sévère renewed her fire. The incident was an ugly one, and led to an angry correspondence between the admirals. Cillart was suspended by Suffren, and was afterwards dismissed the service.

After the action in July, Hughes went to Madras. He was expecting reinforcements, and so was Suffren. But the Frenchman showed greater alertness. On the 21st August he was off Batticaloa, where he met his reinforcements, and on the 25th he attacked Trincomalee, which surrendered on the 31st. Hughes, who had not left Madras till the 20th, did not appear off Trincomalee till the 3rd September. Another engagement followed, Suffren attacking from windward and Hughes edging away. Again he was ill supported, and his irritation provoked him into an explosion of hot Southern rage. Impatience with the pottering of his captains led him to plunge into action in a disorderly way, which gave Hughes an advantage. In spite of that, and though a shift of the wind transferred the weather-gage from the French to the English officer, and though our naval historians speak currently of the defeat of Suffren, it is certain that Hughes did not feel sufficiently victorious to pursue when his opponent drew off.

The two fleets withdrew to their respective bases—Hughes to Madras, and Suffren to Trincomalee. He lost one of his 74’s when entering the harbour—the Orient—by the bad seamanship of her captain, and another when he returned to Cuddalore. The change of the monsoon suspended operations for a time. Hughes having lost the excellent harbour of Trincomalee, could not remain on the east coast, and therefore had to go round to Bombay through storms which damaged his ships severely. He missed Sir Richard Bickerton, who was coming out with stores, and who had a stormy passage in and out of the Bay of Bengal, as he sought, and followed, his superior to Bombay. If Suffren’s captains had had their wish, and if the [291]Minister in Paris had been obeyed, the French squadron would have returned to its Cythera. But “the Bailli” knew that if he returned to the islands, Hughes would be able to forestall him in the Bay, when the monsoon changed again. He took the responsibility of remaining where he was, and wintered at Achin, in Sumatra, which was under the supremacy, if not actually in the possession, of the Dutch his allies. Therefore he was on the scene of operations two months before Hughes could come round from Bombay.

On the coast of Ceylon he met Bussy, a once famous fighter in India, who had been sent from Europe to take the general command in the East, with troops. The reinforcements provided for Suffren were generally sent in small bodies, and were frequently intercepted. But his fleet had now been raised to fifteen sail, and was the mainstay of the enemies of the Company. Hyder Ali was dead, but his son Tippoo Sultan continued the war, though it was going against him. The struggle concentrated around Cuddalore, where Bussy was assailed by a superior army. Hughes, whose fleet had now been brought up to eighteen sail, co-operated with the besieging army. His superiority in number of ships was discounted by the ill-health of his crews, which were very sickly. The last encounter between the old opponents took place on the 20th June, and was of the commonplace eighteenth-century order—save for two details. The French fleet of fifteen sail attacked the British fleet of eighteen from windward—and it was the British fleet which retired. Then Suffren had received an order from home—an order inspired by the capture of the Comte de Grasse in the battle of Dominica—to hoist his flag in a frigate and direct his line from outside. He obeyed, and it perhaps throws some light on the question whether the proper place for an admiral is in his line, where he can set an example, or outside of it, where he can see and direct the whole, that on this occasion the French fleet came into action in far better order than in previous engagements.

The retreat of Hughes left the army besieging Cuddalore in a dangerous position. It depended on transport by sea for most of its provisions, and might have been driven to a disastrous retreat. But at this moment the news that the preliminaries of peace had been signed in Europe on the 20th [292]January reached India, and was communicated to Suffren on the 29th June. He returned to Europe to die of apoplexy in 1788, and when next the French and English fleets met, the outbreak of the great Revolution had made another world.



The authorities for the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars are numerous. An English writer will naturally give the first place in the list to The Naval History of Great Britain, by William James, a trustworthy, laborious, and indispensable, but dry and too often unintelligent chronicle, which covers the whole story from 1793 to 1815. The Naval Chronology of Isaac Schomberg ends at the Peace of 1801. Captain Mahan’s Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire is a survey of the principles rather than the mere events of the whole war. On the French side we have Troude, Batailles navales de la France, the chronology quoted for earlier chapters; Chevalier, Histoire de la Marine française sous la première République, a history up to 1799; Rouvier, Marins français sous la République; Moulin, Les Marins de la République; Lecène, Marins de la République et de l’Empire. The Naval Chronicle (1799-1818) did not begin with the war, but it looks back on events antecedent to its own beginning. Brenton’s Naval History of Great Britain from 1783 to 1836, first published in 1823 and recast in 1837, professes to be a general history, but is chiefly valuable for the writer’s personal reminiscences and the traditions of the service which he repeats. An excellent study of one of the most important episodes of the early years of the war is Cottin, Toulon et les Anglais en 1793. For the battle of the 1st of June the main authority now is Rear-Admiral Sturges Jackson’s Logs of the Great Sea Fights 1794-1805, edited for the Navy Record Society. Sir N. H. Nicholas’ Letters and Despatches of Lord Nelson is a mine of information from the operations at Toulon till 1805. Biographies of officers first become abundant at this period. Those which are of most value for the opening stage of the war are:—Burrows’ Howe, Ross’s Saumarez, Osler’s Exmouth, Tucker’s St. Vincent, Lady Bourchier’s Codrington; and for the operations in the West Indies, Collier Willyams’ special work on the subject, which is the basis of the account given by Bryan Edwards in his History of the West Indies.

When England was dragged into the war already raging between France and the German powers, against the wish of her rulers, and by the deliberate action of the revolutionary authorities in Paris on the 1st February 1793, she came in as the ally of all Central and Western Europe. By the spring of 1795 she was left to fight single-handed on the sea. The French armies had overrun Holland in January [294]of that year. Prussia, hampered by an empty treasury and distracted by her anxiety to secure a share in the third partition of Poland, made peace at Bâle on the 5th April. Spain, weak, exhausted, and ill governed, was eager for peace. France, which had no cause to fear her and was anxious to withdraw the troops serving on the Pyrenean frontier, to reinforce the armies in Italy, on the Rhine, and in the Low Countries, gave her favourable terms. A treaty of peace, which was the preliminary to a treaty of alliance, was signed, also at Bâle, on the 22nd July. From the 1st February 1793 to the Franco-Spanish treaty of Bâle, 22nd July 1795, makes the first period of a war which was destined to last, with two brief intervals, for another twenty years. It was on both sides a struggle for existence. Revolutionary France fought to secure her new social order. To protect the gains of the Revolution, she strove to secure her “natural limits”—the Pyrenees, the Alps, the line of the Rhine. To guard herself against the hostility which this increase of power was sure to arouse in her neighbours, she had to gain possession of advanced guards and outlying fortresses to cover her new frontier, to subjugate Holland, and keep Spain in a dependence which must also include Portugal. But with the coast of Europe and its resources, from the Texel to the Maritime Alps, in the possession of France, the position of England would have been one of extreme danger. Therefore, in order that she herself might be safe, she had to endeavour to force France back into her old limits, and since France was resolved to secure her “natural limits” for her own security, she was committed to an endeavour to subjugate England. The fight could not end till one side was fairly beaten, and France was not vanquished, and shut once more within her frontier of 1790, till the Peace of Paris of the 20th November 1815 was signed. All Europe had to combine to bind her; for the causes which drove her to dominate Holland and Spain, as a defence against England, operated to compel her to seek other outworks and subdue other possible assailants beyond the Rhine and the Maritime Alps. In this mighty struggle of forces and principles it was the part of England to dominate the sea. Her strength on the sea made her the one power whom the French armies [295]could not strike to the heart. Therefore she was the permanent enemy of France, the constant ally of her foes, and in the end the controlling member of the European Coalition which dictated the Treaty of Paris.

The part which England played was to herself glorious and profitable, and to Europe advantageous. It was also arduous. But the student of the history of the time, if he approaches the subject with a just determination to see it in a dry light and to judge by the evidence, must soon be convinced that if the nation was called upon to make great efforts and endure much, the burden was not imposed on it by the naval forces of its enemy. If we are to realise the real character of the task and estimate the true merit of the performance, we must first come to a sound understanding of the condition of the French fleet, which was our one serious opponent. The other navies thrown or dragged into the conflict served to do little more—if we put aside the gallant fight of the Dutch at Camperdown—than to multiply the number of posts which required to be watched, and so to add further severity to the already cruel strain of blockade.

When our squadrons began to get to sea in the summer of 1793, they found in front of them an enemy disorganised by four years of administrative destruction and attempted reconstruction, and morally ruined by four years of progressive anarchy.[1] The ordonnance of Louis XIV. had never been honestly carried out. The classes had been cruelly worked. The compensations promised to the seafaring population had never been given. Bad food, no pay, and nakedness were the lot of the sailors in the king’s ships. Therefore they hated the king’s service, and fled from it when they could. The State punished them by billeting soldiers on their families, and the outrages perpetrated by these men on the women and girls were notorious. It has been already said that the French officers of the regular, or grand, corps were nobles. Being nobles, they insisted on equality among themselves to the injury of discipline, and were perfectly insolent to all men who were not of their own class. None of the many ignorant [296]things said of the French Revolution is more ignorant than the assertion that it gave Frenchmen their love of equality. What it did was to declare that all Frenchmen should be equal, and that there should be an end of the division of the people into nobles above, who were equal among themselves, and the roture, or non-noble, below, who also were equal among themselves. As the grand corps had never been sufficiently numerous to officer the fleet on a war footing, it had been found necessary to employ supplementary officers drawn from the merchant service. These men, who were known as the “blue officers,” because their uniform had not the red facings and knee-breeches of the grand corps, were not allowed to reach the higher ranks. They had to endure much impertinence.

It follows that no part of the French nation was better prepared to join the revolt against class privilege and in the demand for universal social equality than the sailors. A memory of long suffering and of bitter wrong rankled among the crews. Ulcerated pride, and the vanity which is peculiarly sensitive in the Frenchman and is easily driven to ferocity by wounds, exasperated the non-noble officers, and made them the natural leaders of revolt. In front of these elements of rebellion were the officers of the grand corps, very good sort of gentlemen individually in most cases, but even at their best quite unable to help showing their inbred hereditary conviction that they were of a finer clay than their comrades who were not of their class. It is a belief which can be shown with the most irritating insolence by an assumption of exact politeness.

In 1786 the Government had acknowledged the necessity for a change. The Marquis de Castries, then Minister of Marine, simplified the old ranks, and abolished the Gardes de la marine. He proposed to recruit the corps of officers in future by élèves de la marine, who might be of non-noble birth. But while breaking down the old exclusive rule, he still made a distinction. Élèves who came from the schools of Vannes and Alais, which were confined to the nobles, could become lieutenants at once. All other élèves had to pass through a rank of sub-lieutenant, and were therefore put at a disadvantage from the beginning. It was an excellent example [297]of the kind of concession which provokes, and does not satisfy. When, in 1789, the king summoned the States General, he made a tacit confession that the absolute monarchy had brought France to financial ruin and administrative collapse, and could itself find no remedy. In fact, the monarchy abdicated, and the spontaneous anarchy of the Revolution broke out. It raged with extreme violence in the dockyards and the fleet. As early as March 1789 an outbreak, immediately provoked by the sufferings of the workmen and the sailors from the scarcity of that severe winter and bad harvest of 1788, took place at Toulon. Count d’Albert de Rions, commandant de la marine, was attacked, and nearly murdered. After the fall of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789, disorders broke out at Brest, and spread to Rochefort and L’Orient. The details need not be given here. The essential in all of them was that the workmen and sailors understood liberty and equality to mean that they were not to be ordered about by their old masters; that the stronger had the right to command, and that the nation was now the stronger; that the privileged corps were the natural enemies of the nation. The French Navy was well represented in the States General, or National Assembly, and many debates on it took place. In April 1790 a scheme of reorganisation was drawn up. It was in the main a sound one, and did in fact lay the foundation of the modern French Navy. But its details may be omitted, since years were to pass before it could even begin to be applied. The essential of the case here is that the General Assembly had to begin by reorganising the existing corps of officers; that it was in fear of a reaction and counter-revolution; that it distrusted the civisme, or loyalty to the Revolution, of the noble officers; that it dared not check the zeal of the workmen of the dockyards and the sailors; and when that zeal took, as it did from the first, the form of mutinous attacks on the Grand Corps, the Assembly did not venture to punish offenders who were its eager partisans. After each explosion of violence, it ordered an inquiry, and then decided that everybody concerned had acted from a good motive, including the unhappy officers who had been threatened with “the lantern,”—that is to say, the halter,—mobbed, kicked, and thrown into prison. The position of these officers became intolerable. [298]The majority fled abroad, where they formed a regiment, in the emigrant army of Condé. It has been calculated that three-fourths of the old corps were lost to France. Those who remained included a few who were convinced partisans of the Revolution; others remained because their poverty gave them no means of escape. Admiral Trogoff de Kerlessi, the Breton noble who surrendered the ships at Toulon to Lord Hood in 1793, was one of these. But loyal or not loyal to the Revolution, they were alike oppressed and distrusted. The place of the emigrants was taken by men whose chief merit came to be their civisme, which was manifested by blatant pot-house oratory, self-assertion, and intrigue. The evil which the anarchy of 1789-93 did to the French fleet was not made good till the fall of the Empire. The inward and spiritual forces of discipline were killed. Even under the emperor, orders on such vital things as the gunnery drill of the crews were constantly met with outward and visible signs of neglect and disobedience. Perhaps because the best of the French nation does not naturally tend to the sea, it is also an undeniable fact that the French Navy produced no equivalent for the multitude of capable men from the ranks, and the non-commissioned officers, who replaced the emigrant aristocratic officers in the army. They had as good an opportunity on the water as on the land, but they did not come.

The old monarchy had left the Revolution the materials of a noble fleet. The calculation of James in his Naval History is allowed to be sound. He puts the relative strength of the French and English navies in line-of-battle ships at

Number of Ships. Number of Guns Aggregate Broadsides.
English 115 8718 88,957
French  75 6002 23,057

The proportion in frigates was nearly two to one in our favour.

The Royal Navy was suffering from internal evils which broke out in 1797, but none of them were fatal, or beyond [299]comparatively easy cure. In the interval between the Peace of 1783 and February 1793 three powerful fleets had been commissioned—in 1786, in consequence of the disturbed state of Holland; in 1790, on the prospect of a war with Spain—the Spanish armament; and in 1791, when intervention in the East appeared to be likely to become necessary. No fighting had ensued, but the efficiency of the dockyards had been tested. There was nothing to delay the vigorous use of the fleet in February 1793 except the old-standing difficulty always found in passing suddenly from a reduced peace establishment to a war footing, when the crews had to be collected by the press. It was, however, so serious that though Lord Howe, who was appointed to command the Channel fleet, “kissed hands” at court on his appointment on the 6th February, he did not leave London till the 27th May, and did not sail from St. Helens till the 14th July. An interval of six months, therefore, passed between the declaration of war and the appearance in home waters of the fleet which was to protect our shores. Lord Howe’s command was indeed not the first to be ready for service. France was to be attacked at three points—in the Channel, in the Mediterranean, and in the West Indies. The squadron appointed for the West Indies, and commanded by Sir John Jervis, was not able to sail till the very close of the year; but the Mediterranean fleet, under Lord Hood, sailed in detachments during April and May.

That it was safe to send Hood with his twenty sail of the line to the Mediterranean before the home fleet was ready is a signal proof that the Government felt it could rely on the disorganisation of the enemy to serve as our defence for a time. France had been at war since the previous year, and the contending portions of Girondins and Jacobins in Paris had alike been deliberately provoking a war with England. If they had been wise, they would have had a part at least of their fleet in a condition to act at once. But if wisdom can be attributed to the dominant elements in the National Assembly, the praise can be given only on the ground that a universal war was needed to confirm the triumph of the revolutionary parties. The ruin of their finances and the whirlwind of the social Revolution precluded all possibility of [300]immediate effective action at sea. If we look only to the number of ships in commission and their distribution, France was in fairly good position to strike at once. There were three sail of the line and seven frigates at San Domingo, five frigates at Martinique, and two sloops at Cayenne. The Mediterranean fleet, recently reinforced from the Channel, consisted of eighteen sail of the line, sixteen frigates, and a number of small craft. In the Channel and on the Atlantic coast there were seven ships of the line at Brest, one at Cherbourg, three at the isle of Aix, together with seven frigates and other small vessels. The Vendéens were in arms for the king, and the authorities at Paris were well aware of the necessity for cutting them off from foreign support. On the 8th March, Admiral Morard de Galle, an officer of the old grand corps, was ordered to sea to cruise on the coast with three sail of the line. Bad weather drove him back to port, or served as an excuse for his return with his ill-appointed and mutinous ships. With feverish energy, and perhaps in the sincere though frantic belief that revolutionary energy would atone for the want of other elements of strength, the National Assembly commissioned fresh vessels, drove them to sea, and collected a squadron in Quiberon Bay under Villaret-Joyeuse. Morard de Galle took command of the whole on the 22nd May, seven days before Howe left London. By the 1st August he had with him nineteen sail of the line—four less than left St. Helens with Howe on the 14th July.

The operations in the Channel till the close of 1793 are without interest. Howe sighted the French hull down off Belleisle on the 31st July. Calms, squalls, and thick weather, the shyness of the enemy and the rawness of his own force, hastily manned and commanded by officers grown somewhat rusty in peace, combined to prevent an engagement. Till the close of the year the English admiral was either cruising in search of the enemy, and to protect trade, or was coming back to Torbay with sprung masts and split topsails to refit, and for stores. In November the French squadron of Vanstabel escaped his pursuit by sheer superiority of sailing due to the finer lines of their hulls and the more scientific cut of their sails. Morard de Galle did not dare [301]to force an engagement. That he was outnumbered was a sound reason for avoiding battle. And he had still better cause in the state of his crews. Unpaid, unclothed, fed on insufficient rations of salted meat only, and infested by scurvy, they had good cause for discontent. A worse cause of weakness than even these paralysed him. The crews were in the full fever of revolutionary disorder, and had acquired a settled habit of mutiny. They were distrustful of the civisme of their admiral, and maddened by the fear of treason. After many clamours, they forced their admiral to return to Brest on the 28th of September. The delegate of the National Assembly, Tréhouart, who accompanied the fleet, recognised the necessity for the return; but as usual the blame was laid on the want of civisme of the chiefs. Morard de Galle was dismissed and imprisoned. Several captains were sent before the revolutionary tribunal, and most of them were put to death.

While the French were dismissing and beheading their officers, public opinion in England as represented by the Press, was condemning Howe. He was violently abused in the blackguard newspaper style of the time, and was ridiculed in highly coloured caricatures. One by Isaac Cruikshank shows “How a great admiral, with a great fleet, went a great way, was lost a great while, saw a great sight, and then came home for a little water.” The admiral chants piteously—

“Oh Lord when I get to Torbay,
How folks will gape and stare;
Are non come back the Lord knows how
And been the Lord knows where.”

Another, drawn with the genius of Gillray, and inspired by all his brutality of rancour, shows Howe blinded by a shower of gold coins, and standing on a gold shell. He is saying, “Zounds! the damned hailstones hinder one from doing one’s duty. I cannot see out of my eyes for them. Oh it was just such another cursed peppering as this, that I fell in with on the coast of America in the last war, and a deuce of a thing it is, that whenever I am just going to play the devil I am either hindered by these confounded French storms, or else loose (sic) my way in a fog.”


Here we have the English counterpart of the French popular fury which doubted the civisme of Morard de Galle and suspected him of treason. But the Government of England was strong, and upheld its admiral.

The contemporary operations in the Mediterranean began by a success which seemed to promise a speedy end of the war. By the middle of July Hood was on the coast of Provence with twenty-one sail of the line. He met the Spanish fleet at sea near to Iviça on the 6th, and found it in a miserably inefficient state. But the French fleet at Toulon was in a still worse condition than the Brest fleet. It had not dared to tackle even the feeble Spaniards. When orders were given to go to sea, the crews refused, saying that they were to be sold by treason, and would not sail in order to reach a foreign prison. The Admiral Trogoff de Kerlessi was a Royalist, whom his poverty alone had prevented from following other officers of his opinions into the emigration. The Royalists were strong in the south of France, though divided among themselves into those who wished the king to govern with the constitution of 1791, and those who aimed at the restoration of the absolute monarchy. The country was in open opposition to the Jacobin Government at Paris, and was bubbling with intrigue. Hood established a communication with the Toulonese Royalists through a Lieutenant Cooke, who was sent in on the pretext that he came to arrange an exchange of prisoners. Cooke, who has been erroneously described as a son of the discoverer, was afterwards killed as captain of the Sybille in her action with the Forte. On the 28th August the Toulonese were terrified by hearing that the Jacobin army which had just destroyed Lyons had occupied Marseilles, and was about to march on their own town. In the panic which the news caused, the Royalists combined to surrender the town, with dockyard and ships, to the English admiral, who was in co-operation with the Spanish fleet of Don Juan de Lángara, the officer who had been defeated and taken prisoner by Rodney in the relief of Gibraltar in 1780. In the course of the 28th and 29th they took possession. The sailors from Brest who were Jacobin in sympathy and the Jacobins in the town were over-awed.

The occupation of Toulon seemed to promise a speedy [303]counter revolution in at any rate the south of France, or failing that, then the entire ruin of the French naval power in the Mediterranean by the permanent retention of the port. Both hopes were disappointed. Political causes which must be passed over here weakened the allies and their French friends. Toulon is a difficult town to defend on the land side. No sufficient force for the purpose could be collected by the allies. The Austrians would send no soldiers. The Spaniards who were sent proved untrustworthy. The Neapolitans, who came in some numbers, were worthless. The only solid elements in the garrison, the Piedmontese and the English soldiers, were too few. When, therefore, the Jacobin army was put under the command of Dugommier, an excellent officer, and its artillery was directed by Napoleon Bonaparte, who here first came conspicuously forward, it soon gained command of high ground from which it could bombard the harbour and render the anchorage untenable. On the 19th December Toulon was evacuated. The evacuation, which was complicated by the necessity for bringing away thousands of French refugees, was a scene of horror, and the preliminary to other scenes of horror when the Jacobins gained possession and took vengeance on their countrymen. Hood brought away as many of the French ships and as much of the naval stores as he could, and endeavoured to destroy the rest by fire. The task of destruction was entrusted to Captain Sidney Smith, who had joined the fleet as a volunteer in a small vessel purchased and armed by himself in the Levant. Smith, a very vapouring, but also a very stirring and quick-witted man, did his best, and made the most of what he did in his reports. The ill-will of the Spaniards, who perhaps wished to preserve a French naval force as a counterbalance to the English, and the rapid advance of the French, prevented the destruction from being thorough. Yet the allies carried off four sail of the line and burnt nine. They burnt fifteen frigates and carried off five. The English troops who might have prevented the retaking of Toulon were in Flanders under the Duke of York, or were about to sail to the West Indies in the expedition convoyed by Jervis, and commanded by Sir Charles Grey.

The war in the West Indies is one of the most instructive and interesting parts of the great revolutionary struggle. It [304]was only begun by the capture of Martinique in 1794, and will be most conveniently dealt with as a whole, and together with the ancillary services of the navy. For the present I think it most convenient only to note that in April Santa Lucia and Guadaloupe, together with some smaller posts, were occupied. In June the arrival of French reinforcements at Guadaloupe gave an entirely new character to the war in this region. Only a few days before this expedition intervened, there had been fought in European waters the great battle which was to decide whether England was or was not to be free to continue her conquests in distant seas.

The fact that this expedition had sailed from Rochefort on the 25th April, unseen by British look-out ships, and had reached the West Indies before warning was given to Sir John Jervis, would seem to indicate some want of vigilance in the English blockading squadrons and look-out ships. The question whether the watch maintained on the French ports in the early stages of the war was well conducted has been much debated. Every reader of naval controversy has heard of the respective merits of the kind of blockade preferred by Howe, and the course followed by Jervis when he had become Earl St. Vincent and was in command in the Channel. Under St. Vincent the blockading fleet was expected to remain outside the enemy’s port in all seasons, save when the westerly gales drove the heavy ships to take refuge at Torquay, from whence they could return rapidly to their station when the wind shifted. During the absence of the heavy ships an inshore squadron of picked vessels remained at anchor on the French coast just outside of the range of French guns. Howe preferred to keep his ships at anchor in English ports, leaving frigates to watch the enemy, and report if they came to sea. The method of St. Vincent, which had been adopted before him by Hawke, imposed a very severe strain on both men and ships. Howe’s course was the milder, the more endurable to officers and crews. But it was open to the criticism that it allowed the enemy too good a chance of getting to sea unobserved, when it naturally followed that there was a difficulty in discovering what course he had taken, and in bringing him to action. On that ground alone St. Vincent’s blockade must be judged to be superior, and it had [305]the further advantage that it tended to keep the fleet in better training though at a cruel cost to humanity. Yet we need not forget that even when St. Vincent’s rules were most strictly enforced, individual French ships and small squadrons did get to sea, while the torpor of their main fleet was deliberately enforced by the Government which had renounced the policy of meeting the English fleets in battle, and fitted out its own with no more aspiring ambition than the wish to impose a burden on England by forcing her to keep up trying blockades. It would be rash to assert that such a French expedition as that of 1794 would not have sailed successfully at any stage of the war.

The course of events in European waters during that year can hardly be quoted as a case in point against Howe’s method. It is true that he wintered in home ports, and did not sail from St. Helens till the 2nd May; but he was off Brest before the main French fleet was at sea, and if he did not remain outside that port the reason must be sought in the nature of the task set him. The French harvest of 1793 had been very bad, and this failure of the home supply of food was aggravated by the disorder of the country, which hampered industry. France was in serious danger of famine, and the Government had directed its diplomatic agent in the United States, M. Genêt, to purchase foodstuffs, hire American vessels, and send them to Europe in a convoy. On the 24th December 1793, Rear-Admiral Vanstabel sailed from Brest to act as escort to the trading-ships, with two sail of the line and four frigates. The French Government had given its cruisers an order to impound all food on its way to England in neutral vessels, and the British Government had retaliated by declaring all food designed for the use of Frenchmen to be contraband of war. When, therefore, Lord Howe sailed from St. Helens, his orders were to intercept the convoy. The French, who were aware that the British fleet would if possible stop the grain-ships, had sent Rear-Admiral Nielly to meet them with five sail of the line, 300 miles to the west of Belleisle. Nielly left Brest on the 10th April, the day before Vanstabel left the Chesapeake with his hundred and twenty grain-ships.

It is self-evidently true that if Howe had been outside [306]Brest by the beginning of April, Nielly could not have sailed. But the British Government was in some anxiety for its own trade, and Howe was ordered to take with him nearly a hundred merchant-ships, which could not be collected sooner, and to see them clear of the Channel. The whole swarm of vessels which left the Isle of Wight with him amounted to 148 sail, of which 49 were men-of-war, and 34 were ships of the line. Howe took the convoy to the Lizard, and then sent the merchant-ships on under the protection of eight ships of the line. Six of these, under the command of Rear-Admiral Montagu, were ordered to accompany the convoy to Cape Finisterre, and then cruise between Cape Ortegal and Belleisle till the 20th, when they were to join the flag off Ushant. Two were to accompany the merchant-ships to their destination. Howe with twenty-six sail of the line and seven frigates steered for Brest to discover whether the main French fleet had put to sea. It was discovered at anchor.

This fleet, now commanded by Villaret-Joyeuse, a member of the old Royal Navy, and a comparatively young man, was within one of the same strength as the English—twenty-five sail of the line. Great exertions had been made by the French Government to fit it out thoroughly. Sailors had been brought from Toulon, and the crews were filled up by levies of landsmen. Every effort had been made to rouse the patriotism of the crews and confirm their confidence by eloquent appeals to their emotions. As a security that the officers would be kept up to the mark, and also as a precaution against the recurrence of the mutinous disorders which had disturbed the fleet of Morard de Galle, the Government had sent down two delegates with large powers of reward and punishment—Jean Bon Saint André, and Prieur de la Marne. The name of Jean Bon was freely used by wits in England as a Turk’s Head, or chopping-block for satire. They expatiated at large in prose and verse on his absurdities and cowardice. But Jean Bon was by no means an absurd man. He had been a sailor in his youth, before he became a Protestant preacher in his native town, Montauban. In the Convention he had been distinguished by Jacobin zeal and a great command of the windy rhetoric of the time. But [307]he was neither fool nor coward. At a later period he did good service for Napoleon as Prefect at Mayence, and left the reputation of an honest and able official. His influence in the fleet was exercised on the side of energy, and his absurdities were superficial. If he dictated to the admiral, he had begun by making the crews understand that mutiny would no longer be tolerated. That Villaret-Joyeuse was better obeyed than Morard de Galle had been was mainly due to the presence of a representative of the dreaded Committee of Public Safety and to the decision of Jean Bon. The Republican fleet which lay at Brest in 1794 was in truth a better force than France was able to send to sea later in the war, when the spirit of the crews had been damped by defeat, when they had ceased to believe in the possibility of victory, and when long periods of stagnation in port had rendered them awkward and timid. It was indeed far from being efficient. Most of its captains and officers were merchant seamen who had no experience of naval military work. Its crews were largely landsmen. The Government was well aware of its want of training, for they instructed Villaret-Joyeuse to take the opportunity, afforded by his cruise for the protection of the convoy, to drill his men. They were to be taught the rudiments of their business at the very moment when they were about to meet an enemy. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that the English officers had not yet reached the level of skill they attained later. Howe had to complain of the awkwardness of some of his captains. The proportion of men who were at sea for the first time in their lives was large in his fleet also. The “prime seamen,” impressed for the fleet in 1793, had been largely sent to the Mediterranean or West Indies. There were vessels under his command which counted but a low proportion of men bred to the sea in their complements. No doubt the level of skill was higher in the English than in the French ships. But the superiority of Howe’s force was not what the superiority of the crews of coming years was to be. It was based less on training than on a better spirit of discipline, and the quality of its cadastre of officers—commissioned, warrant, and petty. Defoe’s maxim that “good officers presently make a good army,” holds true of fleets, though, no [308]doubt, more time is required to make a man useful in a ship than to drill a soldier.

When Howe saw the French at anchor on the 5th May he might have judged it wiser to remain off Brest, so as to prevent them from getting out to cover the arrival of the convoy. But he could have no security that the convoy would make for Brest, and if it had reached the French ports to the south while he was blockading Villaret-Joyeuse, the main purpose of his cruise would have been lost. He therefore stood to sea to seek for Vanstabel and his charge on and near the 47th degree of latitude—the course which would naturally be followed by merchant ships on their way to Europe. He remained sweeping the trade route without seeing a sail, till he came off Brest again on the 19th, to which he returned since he had ordered Admiral Montagu to meet him off Ushant on the 20th. The weather had been foggy, so foggy that on the 17th the French fleet, on its way out, had passed Howe’s ships close enough to let the Frenchmen hear the fog signals struck in the English fleet. The watch bell was tolled on the starboard, and a drum beaten on the port, tack. The English fleet did not detect the neighbourhood of the enemy, and on the 18th the fleets were out of sight of one another. Villaret-Joyeuse had left Brest on the 16th, and after so narrowly avoiding a collision, he steered for the west to meet Nielly at his rendezvous, three hundred miles west of Belleisle. Howe, on the 18th, was returning to the east, and on the 19th his frigates reconnoitred the anchorage and discovered that Villaret-Joyeuse was at sea. On the same day the Venus frigate joined him with important news from Montagu. On the 15th the rear-admiral had fallen in with and captured the French corvette, Maire Guiton, and several merchant vessels. They belonged to an English Newfoundland convoy protected by Captain Thomas Troubridge in the Castor frigate. The Castor and the vessels she was convoying had all fallen into the hands of Nielly, who had sent them off as prizes. Montagu learnt from the Englishmen in the crews of the recaptured ships, that Nielly was waiting to join Vanstabel. As their united force would have outnumbered his, he informed the admiral, and asked for reinforcements. Howe, who also [309]knew that Villaret-Joyeuse was at sea, realised the danger that his detached squadron might be overwhelmed, and at once steered to the south-west to afford it protection. On the 21st he fell in with a number of Dutch merchant vessels, just captured by Villaret-Joyeuse, and retook them. From the men on board and the logs of the ships he learnt that the French admiral was steering to the west to meet Nielly, and in a direction which would carry him away from Montagu, who was therefore in no danger. The main English fleet went in search of the Frenchman. Montagu, for his part, came to the rendezvous off Ushant on the 20th, and, not finding Howe there, returned in a few days to the Channel, an act of weakness which he and his apologists endeavoured to justify, but which had no valid excuse. It was an oversight on the part of Lord Howe that he did not take measures to call Montagu’s six line-of-battle ships to his flag. If they had been with him in the coming battles the result could not well have failed to be more decisive.

From the 21st to the 28th of May, Howe was diligently seeking the French between the 47th and 48th parallels of latitude. On the morning of the 28th they were seen directly to the south of him, and to windward in the brisk south-westerly wind then blowing. Villaret-Joyeuse, who had been joined by the Patriote, 74, from the squadron of Nielly, had now exactly the same number of ships as Howe. When the English topsails were first seen by the French they were supposed to be perhaps the convoy or the ships of Nielly’s squadron. He therefore bore down till he was near enough to recognise the English fleet, which he did when it was separated from him by a space of ten miles. The first duty of the French admiral was to manœuvre to secure the safety of the convoy. The more effectual course would have been to force on a close battle and drive Howe away. Villaret-Joyeuse was far too painfully conscious of the defects of his command to take the bold line which would have commended itself to his old chief, Suffren, with whom he had served in the East Indies, but was contrary to the general tradition of the French Navy. Therefore, like the plover, which endeavours to draw the intruder away from the place where its nest is, the French admiral manœuvred to tempt his opponent away [310]from the route of the grain-ships. There was in truth little risk that he would not be followed, to say nothing of the fact that it was impossible to know exactly where Vanstabel would be at a given moment. The wholesome tradition of our navy was to destroy the fighting force of the enemy. When his opponent was in front Howe fixed upon him. The operations of the following five days were performed in the space of the Atlantic stretching around the point 47° 34′ N. and 13° 39′ W., and to 47° 48′ N. and 18° 30′ W. A line drawn west from Belleisle, and another drawn south from Lion’s Bank in the North Atlantic, meet on the field of the operation of the 28th and 29th of May and the 1st of June.

When he knew that Howe was to leeward of him the French admiral ordered his fleet to come to the wind on the port tack, and stood to the westward, in the south-westerly wind. But the inexperience of his captains and crews prevented the quick formation of a good line. Some of his vessels fell behind and to leeward. A little after one o’clock he tacked his ships in succession—one after the other, each tacking where her leader tacked—came back to pick up and cover the isolated vessels, and then stood to south-east. When the French were seen the English fleet pressed to windward, and at a quarter to ten the signal was made to prepare for action. As it had to work to windward its approach was naturally slow, and the whole day might have passed without an encounter but for the bad handling of some of the French ships. As it was, the first shot was not fired till about half-past two. To tack a fleet of the size of the French, in succession, was an operation requiring some two hours for its due performance. The last of the line had not reached the turning point when the first of the English came within striking distance. At that moment the French were to the south-east and the windward of the English, and all, except the ships which had not returned, were heading to the east-south-east. Howe had told off a squadron of his best sailing ships to harass the enemy’s rear, seize hold of his skirt, as it were, and stop his attempt to get away. This squadron consisted of Rear-Admiral Pasley’s flagship, the Bellerophon, 74, Captain William Hope; the Russell, 74, Captain John Willet Payne; the Marlborough, 74, Captain the Hon. G. [311]Cranfield Berkeley; and the Thunderer, 74, Captain Albemarle Bertie. Though the average speed of a French fleet was commonly better than our own, the quickest English ships sailed better than the slowest of the French. As Villaret-Joyeuse was compelled to keep his ships together he had to regulate his speed by that of the worst sailer among them. Admiral Pasley’s squadron would probably have overtaken him even if his evolution had been completed by half-past two. At the moment of the first intact the English fleet was heading to the westward towards the French rear. At about three o’clock, as the enemy completed his evolution, it also began to tack in succession, and to follow, still heading for the rear of Villaret-Joyeuse’s line, and still to leeward, in pursuit of the opponent who was slipping away to the eastward. The Russell, Marlborough, and Thunderer, with the frigates, held on longer than the others to get into the wake of the French, and then turned. Both fleets now stood eastward, the French ahead, while the leading English ships kept up a bickering fire with the end of their line. At about five o’clock the Revolutionnaire, 110, fell back from her place in the line and took post at the rear. Her great bulk and solidity fitted her to stand battering. Her captain, Vandongen, fought her stoutly and was killed in the action. As the darkness came on the Revolutionnaire fell behind and put before the wind. She was engaged by the Bellerophon, the Russell, the Thunderer, the Marlborough, the Leviathan, 94, Captain Lord Hugh Seymour, and the Audacious, 94, Captain William Parker. She suffered severely, and it was believed in the English fleet that she had surrendered. It is probable that she would have been taken if Howe, who did not trust all his captains sufficiently to welcome a night action, had not recalled the ships engaged at about eight o’clock. She continued to be engaged on the Audacious till nearly ten. Captain Vandongen fell at nine-thirty. His first and second lieutenants had been killed or disabled. The third lieutenant, Renaudeau, was wounded immediately after taking over the command. The Revolutionnaire staggered out of action a wreck, under her fourth lieutenant, Dorré. But she had put her mark on most of the ships which engaged her, having damaged the Bellerophon [312]severely, and shattered the rigging of the Audacious so thoroughly that the English 74 was compelled to put before the wind and return to Plymouth. The Revolutionnaire reached Brest (where her officers and crew were sent to prison on a charge of treason) under the escort of the Audacieux, 74, from Nielly’s squadron, which joined Villaret-Joyeuse on the 29th but was detached to help her.

During the night the two fleets continued standing to the eastward on the starboard tack. Next morning the French were seen to windward, about six miles off, on the starboard bow of the English. The Audacieux was standing across our route some distance ahead to join her admiral, who, as has just been stated, sent her off to help the Revolutionnaire. At seven o’clock Howe ordered his ships to tack in succession, and menace the rear of the enemy as on the day before. By this movement he also manœuvred to set to windward. At about eight o’clock the Cæsar, 74, and the Queen, 74, the leading ships of Howe’s line, now heading westward, began to cannonade the rear ships of the French who were still standing to the east. Villaret-Joyeuse, seeing his rear ships menaced, and being anxious lest some of them should be cut off as on the day before, wore his fleet in succession, turning them, that is to say, before the wind, and bringing them nearer the English. The result of this movement was to bring the French on to the same tack as the English, but nearer them though still to windward, and the two fleets stood on to the west, cannonading one another at some distance, for the French hung back from a close engagement. At half-past eleven Howe signalled to his fleet to tack in succession and pass through the enemy, but deciding, on consideration, that the order was premature he annulled it, and then repeated it at half-past twelve. The smoke made it difficult to see the order, and when it was seen it was ill obeyed. The leading ship of the English line, the Cæsar, was commanded by Captain Molloy, who had commanded the Intrepid, 64, in Graves’ action with Grasse, off the Chesapeake, in the previous war, and had then fought with signal gallantry. But in the actions of 1794 he suffered, according to his own account, from a persistent course of misfortunes, and, according to others, from a want of zeal, which brought on him great [313]discredit in the fleet, and condemnation by a court martial. The Cæsar was too far from the enemy, and when she was ordered to tack, she wore, and so went further than before, running to leeward of her own friends. The Queen, 98, Captain John Hutt, the flagship of Rear-Admiral Alan Gardner, the ship next to the Cæsar, did tack and so did those immediately behind her, but partly because they were damaged in the rigging, and partly because the French line was well closed, they failed to break it at any point. They ran along it on the leeside between it and the centre and rear of the English fleet. The result of Howe’s manœuvre so far had been to throw his own fleet into confusion. Seeing that if he waited to tack till his turn came, he might be too late to reach the enemy, he tacked his flagship, the Queen Charlotte, 100, and broke through the French line ahead of the fifth ship from the rear. Then he tacked again and stood in the same direction as the French, who were now to leeward of him. He was followed by his fleet, but in a confused swarm. In the prevailing disorder and the smoke, the English could hardly tell whether their broadside would go into a friend or an enemy. Yet Howe gained the essential advantage he had aimed at. He forced to windward of the French fleet, and gained the weather gage. The two ships in the rear of the French line, the Indomptable, 80, Captain Lamesle, and the Tyrannicide, 74, Captain Dordelin, were cut off and surrounded. Seeing their peril Villaret-Joyeuse wore out of his line to support them. He was followed by the centre and rear of his fleet, and he rescued the two ships. He even threatened the Queen, which had been much mauled and had fallen behind. His van had followed him. The Queen was promptly supported. Both fleets were in much confusion, and at five o’clock the fire ceased.

The action of the 29th May had ended to the notable advantage of Howe. Though several of his ships were damaged, none were too disabled to serve. On the other hand Villaret-Joyeuse had lost the Indomptable, which was so much damaged that he felt constrained to send her home under escort of the Mont Blanc, 74. The Montagnard, 74, left the fleet without orders. The fleet which had sailed from Brest was therefore diminished by loss of four of its ships. Moreover, [314]it had lost the weather gage, and with it the power to delay a decisive action. When the action of the 29th ended the French admiral wore again, but his fleet on the port tack rejoined his van and stood to the west followed by the English fleet. The Montagnard, which had separated from the fleet, fell in with Admiral Vanstabel and the convoy. On the day following the action, the 30th May, Vanstabel, with his grain-ships, sailed across the water where it had been fought, and while Howe, who had come out to intercept him, and the Brest fleet, which was there for his protection, were sailing to the west, continued on his way to France.

The wind was still south-westerly, but it had diminished in strength. The weather became foggy, and the hostile fleets not only lost sight of one another, but it was often not possible for the ships in each to see their friends. On the 30th May Villaret-Joyeuse had a piece of extraordinary good fortune. He was joined by the Trente-et-un Mai, 74, Captain Honoré Ganteaume, from Concale, and by Rear-Admiral Nielly, with the Sans Pareil, 80, Captain Courand; the Trajan, 74, Captain Dumourier; and the Téméraire, 94, Captain Henry Morel. His fleet was therefore again brought up to twenty-six sail. During the 30th and 31st May the two fleets continued sailing to the west, sighting one another in glimpses through the fog. By the evening of the 31st the air had cleared. The French were then to leeward of the English at a distance of four or five miles. It was somewhat of a surprise to Howe’s officers to find their opponent undiminished in numbers and so little damaged. Howe, who was no more inclined than before to fight a night battle, and who knew that the French could not now get away, was content to continue on the same tack with them during the night. At dark they were on his lee quarter. When full daylight had come on the 1st June they had so far gained on him that they were on his lee bow.

The battle now about to be fought is among the most important in the history of naval war. Its significance is to some extent obscured by the fact that we see it in the perspective of time—that is to say, across subsequent events of an apparently greater order, with which we naturally, though unfairly, make our comparisons. But the just comparison is with what went before. I have endeavoured to show how [315]the British admirals of the eighteenth century had been compelled, and were for the most part content, to fight on the poor model provided by the Duke of York’s Fighting Instructions. They bore down on the enemy from windward, engaged van to van, centre to centre, rear to rear. And they complied with Instruction XVI.: “In all cases of fight with the enemy the commanders of his majesty’s ships are to keep the fleet in one line, and (as much as may be), to preserve that order of battle, which they have been directed to keep, before the time of fight.” The result had been to produce such formal and inconclusive actions as were fought by Pocock and D’Aché in the East Indies, by Keppel and D’Orvilliers off Ushant, and in many other places. About the time of the American War of 1778-1783 a general impatience had begun to be felt with this established system. A witty French minister declared that what a naval battle meant was the meeting of two fleets, a great expenditure of powder and shot, and a separation—after which the sea was never a whit the less salt.

Arbuthnot’s action with Destouches off the Capes of Virginia, Parker’s fight with Zoutman on the Dogger Bank had exasperated the navy. Then came Rodney’s victory off Dominica, when he broke his own line in defiance of Instruction XVI. and with brilliant results. We cannot say with certainty how far the speculations of Clerk influenced the minds of naval officers. They have commonly denied him any influence at all. His ingenious plans for forcing on decisive actions are open to the criticism of Captain White, who, in his notes on Rodney’s battle, said that Mr. Clerk would not have found it so easy to manœuvre real ships on real water, as to move his models on the dining-room table. The late Rear-Admiral May, when Captain of the College at Greenwich, once observed to me, while looking at Clerk’s scheme for an attack on the enemy’s rear from windward, that it was very pretty if the enemy was fool enough to let you carry it out. There are no bottes secrètes in war—no lunges which cannot be parried. Any attack is effective only when the better fighter tries it on the less good. And here we come to the root of the matter—to that dominating idea of Clerk’s book which remains sound whatever may be the value of his applications.


It is essential to know what that idea really was. I do not think that it is to be found in his ingenious plans for concentrating a superior number of ships on an inferior number of the enemy’s. Every such attempt to concentrate can be countered and baffled by an alert opponent. The real value of Clerk’s speculations lies in the truth of the hypothesis on which he reasoned, and the general recommendation, or exhortation, he founded thereupon. They are to be read in the introduction to his book on Tactics. He said to naval officers that they and their crews were superior in quality to their enemies, and had proved that superiority in single ship actions, yet their great battles had commonly led to no decisive result, and why? Because they allowed themselves to be tied by pedantic rules. These rules were useful to the side which wished to avoid a decisive action. To the stronger, who had every reason to wish for a chance to develop his strength, they were bonds and obstructions. Therefore, he urged, use your formation as a means of bringing your ships into action. Then it has served its purpose, and you can let it go, break into your enemy’s formation, and allow free play to your individual superiority. With or without his help, or spontaneously, and with stimulus from him, these opinions had been spreading in the navy. On the 1st June 1794 the time and the opportunity for their application had come. Howe’s claim to rank among the great captains is based on the fact that he did apply them.

He would hold his place, even if it could be shown that he did not do the best he could have done. The prevailing authorities are agreed that he did not, and the more friendly plead his sixty-eight years, and the strain which had been laid on him, as excuses. It had been severe since the 2nd May, and heavy indeed since the morning of the 28th. The obligatory remark that Nelson would have done far otherwise is rarely omitted. I shall not undertake to prove a negative. Being the younger man, Nelson might have had the strength to do more than Howe if he had ever met an opponent who had capacity and opportunity to manœuvre. Let us leave easy and barren assumptions aside, and see what were the facts with which Howe had to deal.


In the first place he knew, by his experience on the 29th, that the fleet on his lee-bow could and would manœuvre. Villaret-Joyeuse had shown, by wearing out of his line to extricate the Indomptable and the Tyrannicide, that he was not the man to lie idle while part of his fleet was assailed by superior numbers. The French admiral was quite capable of countering any attempt at concentration. On the other hand, Howe could not rely on the intelligent execution of his orders by all his captains. The simpler the task he set them the better would it be executed. Then he knew that while the manœuvring power of the French was not contemptible, their gunnery was bad. The loss of life in his fleet had been small, and none of his ships had been so disabled on the 29th as to be unable to take her place in the line on the 1st June. Therefore it followed that so long as the ships of the two fleets were fairly matched in size, a superior power would be developed by each English ship by virtue of her better gunnery. What was required was that the action should be close, and that the enemy should not be allowed to practise the favourite French manœuvre of firing to dismast, and then slipping away to leeward. The end could be obtained by bearing down on the enemy, van to van, centre to centre, rear to rear, not for the purpose of hauling up to windward and then keeping in the same order, while the enemy went off on his open line of retreat, but to break in on him, to pass through his line, to cut his retreat, and so to force him to fight it out. The process of breaking through would give opportunities to rake the enemy’s ships, a mêlée would be produced, and the individual superiority of the English ships would have free play. When Howe decided on this departure from tradition, he, with his sixty-eight years and his training in the strictest sect of the Pharisees, showed a greater daring, a greater originality, than was to be displayed by the men who followed him, who handled more practised fleets, who benefited by the confidence he had inspired, who fought enemies whose nerve he had broken. The battle of the 1st June was the foundation of the later superiority of the English fleet, and by far the most essential part of any building is its foundation.

Lord Howe signalled that he meant to attack the centre [318]of the enemy’s line, and then that he would break through and engage to leeward. His line bore up at about a quarter-past eight, after a pause had been made to allow the men to have breakfast. The approach was slow, for the opportunity was taken to rectify the order of the ships so that they should be fairly matched. The course steered was to the north-west, the ships advancing on oblique lines to assail the enemy who was on their bow, and who lay in very good order awaiting the attack, in a line ahead from west to east. The wind, though less strong than on previous days, was still from the south-west, and the sea was calmer than it had been for the last few days.

It was nearly half-past nine when Howe’s fleet came within range of the French guns and the enemy opened fire. For a few moments none of his ships answered. They were waiting till they were in a position to answer with effect. If the admiral’s orders had been exactly obeyed each of his captains would have steered for the space astern of the Frenchman corresponding to himself in the hostile line, and would have passed through it, and would have engaged to leeward. But the order was not exactly obeyed, sometimes because the French closed their line and no open space was left; sometimes because the rapidly gathering cloud of smoke deprived zealous officers of the power to see; sometimes because an effective effort to obey was not made. The signal to pass through the enemy’s line was accompanied by a superfluous and mischievous note to the effect that the captain who could not find a place to pass was at liberty to engage without passing. It was superfluous, because there was surely no necessity to tell any man that he was not expected to do the physically impossible, and mischievous, because this official recognition of the alternative gave the weaker sort an excuse for not doing their utmost. There were those who did not. The Cæsar hauled up too far to windward, exposed herself to the concentrated fire of the leading French ships, was damaged, made distracted vacillating movements, was of no use, and yet suffered more loss of life than some vessels which really contributed to the victory. Following the line from west to east, the Bellerophon engaged the Gasparin to windward, but close and hotly, till [319]the Frenchman, together with his next ahead, the Convention, flinched, bore up and ran to leeward, heading to the east. The rigging of the Bellerophon was cut to pieces, and she could not follow. Yet she lost fewer men than the Cæsar. But Admiral Pasley, who lost his leg, was among the wounded. The Leviathan engaged the America to windward to good purpose, pushing her hard, driving her out, following her, and swinging round to leeward of her as she strove to follow her leaders to the eastward. Old habit had fixed the French captains in the faith that a naval battle was to be fought by firing to dismast and then slipping away to form a new line to leeward. The Russell engaged the Téméraire till this French ship also slipped away. Then she pressed on, and falling in with the America helped to take her. The Royal Sovereign fought the Terrible, drove her out of the line, and then joined in overwhelming the America. The Marlborough broke through the French line astern of the Impétueux, the next behind the Terrible, became entangled with the former and the Mucius, her next astern, so that the three fell aboard one another, and the English ship was severely mauled. The Defence cut the line between the Mucius and the Eole, suffering much. The Impregnable, Tremendous, and Barfleur engaged the Tourville, Trajan, and Tyrannicide to windward—not as closely as Howe would have wished. The Barfleur was the flagship of Admiral Bowyer, who also was wounded, and her captain was Cuthbert Collingwood, the most calmly intrepid of men. No want of goodwill can have restrained him. In the smoke her crew could see only a short distance. They believed, and for a time Collingwood himself believed, that a French ship beside them had sunk. “Up jumped the Johnnies on the guns and cheered,” so Collingwood records, but they were mistaken. The Culloden and Gibraltar fired from windward, not closely, nor to the purpose. The Queen Charlotte, Howe’s flagship, was steered to break the line astern of the French flagship, the Montagne. As she came down she took the fire of the Jacobin and the Achille, the next French vessels, without reply. The captain of the Montagne—or the Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse—understood her aim, backed their sails, and endeavoured to bar her road. Gassin, the captain of the [320]Jacobin, saw it too, and, letting all draw, shot ahead to close the line. He took the officer-like course, but he took it too eagerly. The Jacobin nearly ran into the stern of the Montagne, and to avoid a collision had to port her helm, and was carried on till she ranged up on the leeside of the flagship. The Queen Charlotte swept through the space left by her advance. The flag of the Montagne flapped against the shrouds of the English flagship, so closely did she pass. Her broadside was delivered with shattering force, and then she ranged up between the Montagne and the Jacobin. If either had been laid on her bow she must have suffered, if not disaster, still great injury. But the Jacobin soon stood on, and then so did the Montagne, which had made little or no reply to the English fire. The Brunswick headed to pass through the gap left by the Achille which had followed the Jacobin, but Captain Renaudin, of the Vengeur, stood on and barred the way. Then Captain John Harvey, of the Brunswick, obeyed the admiral’s signal in the spirit since in the letter he could not. He ran into the French ship, his three starboard anchors hooking the Frenchman’s port fore-shrouds and fore-channels. When his master, Mr. Stewart, asked if the anchors should be cut away he answered, “No, we have got her, and we will keep her.” The two ships turned before the wind, and drifted to leeward, grappled one to the other. The Valiant, the Orion, the Queen, the Ramillies, the Alfred, the Montague, all engaged to windward more or less closely—some of them notably rather less than more. The Royal George broke through between the Républicain and the Sans-Pareil. The Majestic engaged to windward. The Glory broke in among the ships of the French rear, and the Thunderer passed behind the last of them, and so entered the mêlée.

These movements which must needs be told consecutively, were contemporaneous, or nearly so. As the French ships pushed on to close spaces ahead of them, a westerly movement was given to the line, and the English vessels furthest to the east had the greater distance to go and so came later into action. Though Howe’s orders were not fully obeyed the French formation was broken, and the English were mingled with the enemy’s vessels in confusion. Out of that confusion [321]order was again evolved. The general movement to leeward carried most of the French clear, and among them the Montagne, which shook off the Queen Charlotte, crippled by the loss of her main topmast. When the two fleets were disentangled, Villaret-Joyeuse was able to form a line to leeward, but ten of his ships were surrounded by the English. He came gallantly back to their assistance and rescued four, the Républicain, the Mucius, the Scipion, and the Jemmapes. Two of the English ships were put in peril by his return—the Queen, which had eagerly pushed through the broken French rear, and the Brunswick, which had drifted away locked to the Vengeur. Their strife was furious, and carried to a decisive conclusion. Captain Harvey was mortally wounded, but the Vengeur, shattered by the fire of the Brunswick and other English vessels, sank, carrying part of her crew down with her, but not before she had surrendered.

The return of Villaret-Joyeuse alarmed the captain of the fleet, Sir Roger Curtis, and he urged the admiral to call his ships about him lest the Frenchman should take his revenge. Howe, so exhausted by four days of strain that he nearly fell from fatigue, yielded to his importunity. The English ships were recalled, and before two o’clock the action ceased. We remained in possession of six prizes, the Sans-Pareil, Juste, America, Impétueux, Northumberland, and Achille. The total loss of life from the 28th May to the 10th June was but 290 killed. The wounded were 858. The casualty list of the six French ships taken was greater—1266 in all, and the total loss must have been very much heavier.

The operations of the campaign did not end when the fleets drew apart on the afternoon of the 1st June. Admiral Montagu was not allowed to remain in Plymouth Sound. When the Audacious brought news on the 3rd June that the fleets were in contact, he was ordered out again, and he sailed on the 4th with nine sail of the line. On the 8th June he was off Brest where he found himself in the midst of enemies. A reserve squadron had been fitted out in the port, and two at sea. It was weaker than Montagu’s, and retired before him to Bertheaume Bay. But on the 9th the fleet of Villaret-Joyeuse, diminished, but still formidable to Montagu’s squadron of nine, hove in sight. He slipped between the two, [322]and retreated to Plymouth where he anchored on the 12th. In the meantime, Vanstabel, who, after crossing the scene of the action of the 29th May, had anchored at Penmarch, came into Brest under cover of the French fleet, and the great food convoy was safely housed. The main English fleet made for home when it lost sight of the French on the 1st of June. Part of the ships were left at Plymouth, but the majority and the prizes anchored at Spithead on the 13th of June.



Authorities.—See the list of Authorities in the previous Chapter. Also, Projets et Tentatives de Débarquement aux Îles Britanniques by Captain Desbrière.

The victory of the 1st of June was followed by an interval of more than two years marked by no great naval conflict. The French Navy was at once too completely disorganised and too ill-directed to act with effect. It was indeed driven to exertions injurious only to itself by the Jacobin rulers in Paris, who were themselves driven on by such passions as the “beastly froth of rage” which caused them to issue their decree of the 24th May 1794—the decree forbidding their armies and fleets to give quarter to Hanoverians or Englishmen. It was repealed on the 30th December, five months after the fall of the Terrorists on the 27th of July, and when experience had shown the French that not they but their enemies were to have the more frequent opportunities to refuse quarter. The English fleet had no substantial opponent at sea at whom to strike, and was, moreover, but poorly led for the most part.

In the Channel, Howe, who continued to hold the command though his health never recovered from the strain of the campaign of 1794, cruised from September till the end of the year.[2] But he continued to prefer his own system of watching the French from an English channel port by means of a lookout maintained by frigates. His infirmities and age were in fact disqualifying him for active service. He would willingly have retired, and indeed was never at sea after the spring of [324]1795, though he was compelled, by the unwillingness of the Government to allow him to resign, to retain the nominal command. Lord Bridport, brother of Lord Hood, who first acted for him at sea and then succeeded him in the Channel command, held the same views as to the best way of using the fleet, and applied them with far less energy and faculty.

The Admiralty did not as yet impose a more vigorous line of action on its admirals. Between the growing weakness of Howe, the natural want of energy of Bridport, and the lack of intelligent direction from Whitehall, the movements of the Channel fleet went somewhat by fits and starts. In November, the Canada, 74, Captain Hamilton, came into Torbay, where Howe was at anchor, with the news that he had barely escaped from a French squadron which had taken his colleague, the Alexander, 74, commanded by Captain R. R. Bligh, a different man from the officer whose name is for ever associated with the mutiny of the Bounty. Howe went at once to cruise off Ushant, believing that the main French fleet was at sea. But it was only a small squadron commanded by Nielly, which had taken the Alexander as she and the Canada came back from convoy duty. Howe’s fleet, which included four Portuguese liners, was much blown about and damaged by rough weather.

If the English ships, and to a greater extent our Portuguese friends, suffered from the rough weather of the Channel in autumn and winter, the French fleet at Brest was all but finally ruined. Villaret-Joyeuse was hounded out to sea on the 24th December with thirty-five sail of the line. Six of these were to form a detached squadron under Renaudin, who had been promoted to Rear-Admiral for his gallant defence of the Vengeur. He was to take his command round to Toulon. So great was the distress of all France, and particularly of its poorest province (Brittany) for food, that it had not been found possible to provision any of these thirty-five ships except the six of Renaudin’s command for more than three weeks. The hostility of all Europe and the penury of their Government combined to deprive the French of naval stores. Their ships were patched up by makeshift devices and with inferior material. Half a century after 1795, the Prince de Joinville noted that as the French maritime population [325]was very poor and ill fed, the men drawn from it for service in the fleet were inferior in size and strength to the seamen of the north of Europe—including, of course, Great Britain. He found that these men did not gain strength till they had been well fed and well looked after in the navy for some months. In 1795 the French seacoast population was even poorer than about 1840, and the men drawn from it were not sufficiently clad, and were fed on almost starvation rations in the fleet. We must remember that our successes were gained against overstrained and patched-up ships, with inferior spars fished with bad material and sails of poor cloth; manned by crews not only raw from want of practice, but weak from downright want of food, and depressed by a sense of inferiority in knowledge and force. Our ancestors rejoiced in looking at caricatures of the starving French reduced to mere scarecrows by hunger, and in comparing them with the typical Englishman, a mass of fat and brawn. The French had made themselves hateful by their aggressions and plunderings, and we resented their arrogant claim to impose regeneration and freedom on their neighbours while they were themselves in a squalid welter of bloodstained anarchy. Yet they were gallant men who faced storm and battle in such destitution—and we shall not again have to meet enemies enfeebled as they were.

Villaret-Joyeuse had to face a December gale with such a fleet when he obeyed his orders on the 24th of December in 1794. It drove the Républicain on the rocks, and his fleet had to anchor in Camaret Bay. He sailed on the 30th, only to suffer a month of misery. The Neuf Thermidor (the Jacobin of the 1st of June renamed), the Scipion, and the Superbe sank. The Neptune was driven on shore. By the 2nd February the weakened fleet was back at Brest. The news that the French were at sea brought Howe out for his last cruise, to intercept them if possible, and to cover the trade. The stormy weather disposed of Villaret-Joyeuse, who, however, captured a hundred of our merchant-ships, and the Daphne, a 20-gun ship, and Howe returned to Spithead after looking into Brest to be sure that the French fleet was not at sea. If he had been outside Brest on the 24th of December, the French might have been spared a disaster. Yet the [326]weakness of his method of watching from afar off and starting to pursue from a distance was clearly demonstrated immediately after his return to Spithead. Renaudin sailed with his six line-of-battle ships on the 22nd of February, and reached Toulon unmolested by us, on the 2nd April, but having suffered much from the weather, and with a long sick list.

The French took advantage of the absence of a blockading fleet off Brest to send out squadrons to protect their own coast trade and attack our commerce. In May an English watching squadron of five sail of the line under Cornwallis was off Ushant. It saw and pursued a French force of three liners under Rear-Admiral Vence, then engaged on convoy duty. Vence fled to the Penmarchs, pursued by Cornwallis, who took part of his convoy on the 8th and 9th of June. The danger of Vence brought Villaret-Joyeuse out from Brest with nine sail. Cornwallis was pursued and overtaken on the 16th, but so poor was the gunnery of the French that though they attacked his rearmost ships on both sides, they did little harm, and suffered not a little themselves. Cornwallis got safe to Plymouth with his prizes, and his retreat was highly praised for its steadiness and good management. Bad weather forced the French back to Belleisle, and when they turned again to Brest on the 19th June they fell in with another and a stronger opponent.

The Vendéens were still fighting for the royal cause in France, and were calling for help to the Royalist exiles and for the presence of a prince to lead them. An expedition had been prepared in England, which was to have been commanded by the Count d’Artois—in after times King Charles X. It included 200 exiled officers of the old French Navy, and sailed on the 11th June from Spithead under the protection of Sir John Borlase Warren, who had his flag in a frigate, but had three line-of-battle ships and fifty transports. Lord Bridport accompanied the expedition with fourteen sail of the line to protect it from the Brest fleet. Warren’s mission was to land the Royalists at Quiberon. On the 19th June Bridport dispatched him to Quiberon, and steered himself for Brest. Immediately after Warren had parted from Bridport on his way south-east to Quiberon, he sighted Villaret-Joyeuse [327]on his way back from Belleisle to Brest. He retreated, warned Bridport, and the two rejoined on the 20th. Bridport took the three liners of Warren’s squadron, and pursued Villaret-Joyeuse. On the 23rd June there was a confused encounter about the island of Groix, which lies north-west of Belleisle. The French admiral was ill obeyed by his overtaxed subordinates, who disregarded signals, and fled to L’Orient, on the mainland opposite Groix. Three of his ships were overtaken and captured after a gallant resistance. The dangers of the coast and a fog added to the disorders of the fight. The French admiral complained bitterly of the conduct of his captains. Bridport, who had three prizes to show, the Alexandre (the English Alexander taken by Nielly on the 7th November of the previous year through her bad sailing, and now retaken for the same reason), the Tigre, and the Formidable, renamed by us the Belleisle, was praised for his victory. But the opinion of his fleet and the verdict of history was adequately expressed by Codrington, then captain of the Babet frigate in his fleet. “It is greatly to be regretted that His Lordship called the ships out of action, as they could of course go where the large French three-decker did. He might have captured or destroyed all the ships of the enemy.” Warren remained on the coast till September a helpless eye-witness of the dreadful fate of the French Royalists at Quiberon. Nearly all the 200 naval officers among them perished in the water, in action, or before the Republican firing parties. Frenchmen who were prepared to assert that Perfidious Albion had contrived the whole disaster in order to secure the destruction of the dreaded royal corps, have not been wanting. The French ships at L’Orient remained till the close of the year, unmanned partly by desertion, partly by the disbanding of crews which could not be fed. During the last days of 1795 and the first of 1796 they were remanned after a fashion, and slipped away to Brest and Rochefort.

In the meantime the French armies had overrun Holland at the close of 1794, had driven out the army of the Duke of York, and had set up a subject republic. Our ally became our enemy, and a squadron had to be told off to watch the Texel under Duncan, in company with a dozen very ill-found Russian warships. But from the date of Lord [328]Bridport’s victory till the close of 1796 there was little for the fleet to do in the Channel and North Sea but to watch. Want of funds compelled the Republican Government to follow the example given by Louis XIV. after 1693—to lay up its main fleets and take to commerce destroying.

The operations in the Mediterranean from December 1793, when Hood was forced to retreat from Toulon, till Jervis evacuated the Mediterranean in December of 1796, correspond with the campaigns in the Channel—with the exception that they include no 1st of June.

When he had withdrawn his ships filled with French refugees from Toulon, Hood paused for a time at Hyères. The refugees had to be provided for at Leghorn, from whence most of them returned home after the fall of the Terrorists. The remnant of the French fleet at Toulon could not move for months. An opportunity for dealing a severe blow to France was presented by the state of the island of Corsica. The Corsicans had not wholly renounced the hope of achieving independence of the French, who had conquered them some thirty years earlier. One party among them was deeply offended by the irreligion of the French Republicans. It had for chief the famous Pasqual Paoli, who had fought against the French conquest, and had for years been a pensioner in England. He had returned to Corsica by favour of the Revolution, and was now in the possession of great influence over his countrymen. Paoli, who hoped to secure the independence of Corsica under English protection,—which meant to govern the country himself with our support,—offered his co-operation. Hood sailed from Hyères on the 24th of January 1794, bringing with him the British troops under Sir David Dundas. A storm forced the fleet to Elba and caused delay. But the occupation of the island with the help of Paoli was an easy undertaking. The few French troops took refuge in the coast towns of Bastia and Calvi. Dundas declined to co-operate at Bastia on the ground that he had no adequate force. But Bastia was taken between the 4th of April and the 21st of May by the seamen, the marines, and the soldiers appointed to serve as marines, who were under Hood’s orders. Calvi was besieged on the 19th June, and surrendered on the 10th of August. The fact [329]that Nelson, the only one of our admirals whose personality has stamped itself on the memory and imagination of the English people, was concerned in these sieges and lost his right eye at Calvi, has given them an undeserved prominence. The garrisons were cut off from supplies by sea and land, and must have surrendered when they did, if no shot had been fired against them. On the 14th June Corsica was declared a kingdom, with George III. for its sovereign, and coins were struck in his name. But our hold on the island was weak. It depended in reality on the continued support of Paoli and on his retention of influence over his countrymen. Sir Gilbert Elliot, our Commissioner first at Toulon and then in Corsica, ruined the whole foundation of our position. Sir Gilbert was a high-minded and able man, a conspicuous member of that portion of the Whig Opposition which was shocked by the French Revolution into allying itself with Pitt. He would not consent to govern by the advice of Paoli, and would endeavour to introduce clean-handed methods of administration, impartial justice, and the British jury among a people divided by irreconcilable family feuds. With the best intentions in the world, he mortally offended our only possible friends, the Paolists, who hoped for a self-governing Corsica administered by them, and he entirely failed to placate our enemies. The calm and perfectly right-minded manifestation of the innate and comprehensive superiority of Englishmen on the part of our officers, did not fail to produce its unfailing effect. It exasperated the Corsicans beyond endurance. We were soon universally hated, and our tenure of Corsica was certain to end whenever a serious attack could be made on us from outside. A very few months of English virtue converted the population into partisans of the French. A far larger army than we could spare, frequently reinforced, would have been required to hold the island.

The attack came by the end of 1796. Until then we were employed in beating back successive feeble sorties of the French from Toulon, and in co-operating with the Austrian armies in Northern Italy. The efforts of the French to maintain their hold on Corsica by expeditions from a ruined dockyard were begun with a promptitude highly honourable [330]to their energy. As early as the 5th June, just over six months after the expulsion of the allies, Admiral Martin sailed with seven ships of the line. He met with a slight measure of success, for he retook the Alceste, a frigate carried away in December, and assigned to Sardinia as her share of the prizes. But when Hood, warned by his frigates, took up the pursuit of the French squadron, it could but retire and seek refuge in the Golfe Juan, commonly called by English sailors Gourjean. Hood, who had an old experience of attacks on fleets at anchor, laid a plan to fall on the French two upon one. But it was delayed by unfavourable weather till Martin had fortified his ships by batteries on shore. A scheme for using fireships was given up as impracticable. Martin was blockaded by a combined English and Spanish squadron under Hotham till a storm drove the watchers off, and he escaped to Toulon on the 2nd of November. It would seem that the allies might as well have been off Toulon in May. But the method of watching from afar, which in the Mediterranean meant from San Fiorenzo or Leghorn, was as much a favourite with Hood as with Howe. In November, Hood went home on leave, and on the understanding that he was to return. But he could not agree with ministers, and did not go to sea again.

Hotham, his successor, an easy-going gentleman, was not the man to change a method of conducting war which gave him much time at anchor at San Fiorenzo or Leghorn. He had gone to Leghorn to cover convoys which could have been much better covered by a close blockade of Toulon, when Martin put to sea again, on the 2nd March, with fifteen sail of the line. The 12,000 men required to make up the crews of these vessels had been found only by drafting 7500 soldiers into them. Martin had only 2300 sailors in addition to officers and petty officers. A gleam of good fortune was again allowed him. On the 7th March he took the Berwick, 74. Her masts had been rolled out of her by the carelessness of her officers, and she was following Hotham to Leghorn under jury rig. But this small advantage was all Martin could gain. Hotham, who sailed from Leghorn on the 9th, was informed of the whereabouts of the French by his frigates on the 10th. He pursued in baffling breezes and calms. On the 13th and 14th [331]an encounter took place between them which has some resemblance to Bridport’s action near Groix. The French straggled, and the French admiral was ill obeyed. Two French vessels, the Ça Ira, 80, and the Censeur, 74, were taken after a stout resistance. Some vague cannonading on opposite tacks took place between the fleets. It is to the credit of the French that they inflicted a loss of 74 killed and 284 wounded on the English vessels most exposed to their fire. The Illustrious, 74, Captain Frederick, lost 90 of the total. Hotham had with him a Neapolitan 74, the Tancredi, commanded by a man whose name is associated closely with the Royal Navy for another reason, the unhappy Carracciolo. When the fragmentary battle was over, Hotham excited the wrath of his subordinate Nelson by placidly putting aside advice to pursue with vigour on the ground that two vessels had been taken and they had done very well.

An admiral of this kidney was not the man either to intercept Renaudin, who joined Martin at Hyères on the 4th April, or to keep the French confined to Toulon. They were almost ruined there by a mutiny of starving, unpaid men, but got over the difficulty, and were at sea again on the 7th June. The second sortie was even feebler than the first. Martin chased Nelson, who had been detached to Genoa, back on Hotham, at San Fiorenzo. Though reinforced by Renaudin, he was weaker than the English admiral, who had been joined by Admiral Mann with nine sail of the line on the 14th June. There was nothing for it but another retreat, another ineffectual distant cannonade—the final retreat of Martin to Toulon, and the return of Hotham to San Fiorenzo.

As the English admiral moved periodically from San Fiorenzo to Leghorn and from Leghorn back to San Fiorenzo, there was obviously nothing to prevent Richery from leaving Toulon on the 24th September with six of the line and three frigates on a cruise to America. He did so, passed the Rock of Gibraltar, and on the 7th October fell in with an English convoy of thirty-one merchant-ships under the protection of two 74’s and the French prize Censeur armed en flûte. Richery retook the Censeur and captured nearly all the merchant-ships. Spain having made peace with France in July, Richery was able to take his prizes into Cadiz, where he was promptly [332]blockaded by Rear-Admiral Mann with six ships, and so remained for months. Hotham, again, was not the man to prevent Honoré Ganteaume from leaving Toulon for a cruise in the Levant on the 10th October. He did sail with one of the line and five frigates, released some scattered French vessels watched by us, did considerable damage to Russian and English trade, escaped the pursuit of Troubridge, and was back at Toulon on the 5th February 1796. Hotham, worn out by his exertions, resigned his command to Sir Hyde Parker on the 1st November 1795, and sailed for home, to be rewarded by an Irish peerage. Sir Hyde Parker was superseded by Sir John Jervis on the 30th of the month.

During 1796 the new admiral could do little, for the French fleet was paralysed by penury in the Mediterranean as in the Channel. He had to look on almost helplessly while Napoleon, who took command of the army of Italy in March, was conducting the first and perhaps the greatest of his campaigns. It was at least a campaign which showed what genius and enthusiasm, even if it be only enthusiasm for a full belly and plenty of plunder, can do against professional pedantry and routine. By June his victories had cowed Naples into deserting the coalition, and her help, such as it was, was lost. On the 28th June he seized Leghorn, and a source of supply to the fleet was lost, an opening for British trade was closed. The loss of Corsica was seen to be at hand, and on the 10th July Elba was seized as an alternative storehouse. Jervis’ fleet hampered the French coast trade, and captured a battering-train on its way to the siege of Mantua. But Spain, whirled about by every folly under the rule of Godoy, was seen to be coming into the war. On the 25th August, Jervis received orders from home to evacuate Corsica. Nelson was appointed to superintend the evacuation on the 26th September, and when he withdrew from before Leghorn to execute the order, a French expedition under General Gentili crossed to the island on the 19th October, on the very day we retired somewhat harassed by the partisans of France.

While we were withdrawing from Corsica, the movements of the fleets seemed to be leading to a clash of battle. On the 29th of July, Jervis wisely desirous to concentrate his forces, had recalled Mann from before Cadiz. He came, but [333]without stores, and Leghorn being now shut to us and Corsica unfriendly, he had to be sent down to Gibraltar to fill up. While he was absent, Richery had sailed on a plundering expedition to Newfoundland, escorted by Don Juan de Lángara with a Spanish fleet on the 7th August. Spain did not declare war till the 5th October, but the declaration was then as always a mere formality. After seeing Richery on his way, Lángara returned, and on the 29th September left for Toulon with nineteen sail. On the 1st October he met Mann, and chased him into Gibraltar. Then he went on towards Toulon, picking up seven more ships of the line, which raised his force to twenty-six sail. Mann, moved by reasons which pass all understanding, called a council of war, which as usual agreed with the commanding officer, and sailed for England. His withdrawal weakened Jervis vitally. In after days the admiral said that if Mann had rejoined him, the battle which was to be fought off Cape St. Vincent on the following 14th February would have been fought in the Mediterranean. Yet it is to be observed that Jervis fought at St. Vincent with fifteen ships against twenty-seven. Now, when Lángara was seen off Cape Corso on the 5th October with twenty-six sail, Jervis was near at hand in Mortella Bay with fourteen. He had many responsibilities on him—the troops to be withdrawn from Corsica, the garrison at Elba, and the French not far off at Toulon. On the 14th February of next year he was free to make play with his admirable squadron. Yet it can hardly be doubted that if he had struck on the 15th October, as he did on the 14th February, the absence of Mann would not have prevented him from gaining a victory which would have dashed the Franco-Spanish naval coalition to pieces. He judged the risk too great, and sailed for Gibraltar on the 2nd November. From Gibraltar he went by order of the Government to Lisbon. We had left the Mediterranean, which was not to see an English fleet again till the summer of 1798. Lángara, much troubled by gales, formidable to his unseamanlike fleet, reached Toulon on the 26th October. He left it again on the 1st December with a French squadron of six sail under the command of Villeneuve. Lángara put in to Carthagena, but the Frenchman went on to Brest. He passed the Straits on the 10th December. Jervis had not yet [334]left for Lisbon, and the French squadron was sighted, but could not be pursued. A storm which blew right into the anchorage at Gibraltar was raging at the time. One of Jervis’ ships was driven on shore, and two were damaged. The admiral could do no more than send a frigate home with the news that a French squadron had escaped from the Mediterranean. Villeneuve went on to Brest. On the 21st December he was seen and chased by the blockading fleet of Admiral Colpoys, but though forced to turn from Brest, he reached L’Orient safely on the 23rd. Villeneuve’s was not the only reinforcement received at this time by the French forces in the Channel and the Bay. Richery, after doing considerable damage in Newfoundland, had reached the island of Aix on the 5th of November, and had gone on to Brest with part of his squadron. A part, detached on the coast of America, had preceded him. Richery was swept into the most determined, and by far the most nearly successful, of the efforts made during this war to invade the British Isles in force.

The very nature of the struggle they had provoked taught the French to dwell on the hope of delivering the much threatened blow at the heart which was to bring their enemy to the ground. Schemes of invasion abounded, and may still be read with interest (or amusement) in Captain Desbrière’s history of Les Projets et Tentatives de Débarquement aux Îles Britanniques between 1793 and 1805. Some were only foolish. Some, without ceasing to be foolish, were ferocious. The most notable of these were the plans for carrying a chouannerie into the British Isles. A chouannerie was a warfare of atrocious brigandage. It took its name from the desperate Royalist partisans who, when no longer able to oppose the Republican armies in the field in Brittany, betook themselves to highway robbery, housebreaking, murder and torture of political opponents, or even only of defenceless people who possessed property. As they naturally preferred to act by night and by surprise, they were known as the Chouans—the brown owls. In the fury of their hatred the French planned to let loose hundreds of insubordinate soldiers and common criminals on the English coast as a measure of revenge for the evils which, so they argued, the support given by England to the Royalist partisans had brought upon [335]France. Soldiers who were in prison for acts of indiscipline were formed into a corps under the name of the Légion des Francs. Another corps, aptly surnamed the Légion Noire, was formed of common criminals. The two were to be landed on the English coast to burn, murder, and plunder. The calculation made was that France stood to win in any case. If the two legions did murder and pillage, loss would be inflicted on England. If the English shot or hanged every man of them, France would be rid of hundreds of violent blackguards. The calculation was silly, in spite of its specious air of cunning. The Chouans in Brittany knew the country and the language, and had friends. The legions would have been perfectly helpless in England—and so they proved in February 1797. In that month a French naval expedition of two frigates, a corvette, and a lugger, escaped unobserved from Brest, and landed about 1500 of the Légion des Francs and the Légion Noire at Fishguard, in Pembroke. Captain Castagnier, who commanded the ships, had hardly sailed out of sight before these intended Chouans with their leader, Tate, a rascally American adventurer, surrendered to an inferior force of Welsh militiamen under Lord Cawdor. They had no intention of losing their lives in a frantic attempt to do mere mischief. The English Government then called on the French to exchange a number of its English prisoners for these cowardly ruffians. When the French refused, they were brought to their senses by a threat to land the legionaries on the coast of France without exchange. The mere prospect created a panic, and the British Government had its way. The end of the Fishguard invasion was therefore that hundreds of useful Englishmen were exchanged against men who were a danger and a burden to France, while other hundreds of honest Frenchmen who were capable of serving their country well remained in prison for months.

Before the Fishguard Invasion ended in sour pleasantry, a more sane and manly attack had failed, partly through mismanagement, but to a far greater extent because of the protection which the superhuman powers governing this universe have not seldom afforded to England. When the war in La Vendée had fairly come to its close by June 1796, the general commanding the Republican army, Lazare Hoche, [336]urged that the large army of 117,000 men left free by the submission of the Royalists should be used for an invasion of the British Isles. His Government was ready to approve, but for a time it distracted its general by double-minded schemes. The belief that our empire in India was the cause, and not, as in truth it was, the consequence, of our strength, was general in France. The French Navy, conscious of its inability to contend with the concentrated force of the Royal Navy in the four seas of Britain, and longing for the warm seas and abundant prize money of the East, was eager for an expedition to India. So the Government at Paris played with dreams of a great expedition to the East Indies which was to drop a body of French troops in Ireland on its way, and the naval officers at Brest obstructed all other plans. The good sense of Hoche saw that division of aim must be fatal to success, and he at last persuaded his superiors to consent to attempt a vigorous invasion of Ireland. An invasion of England in force would have inflicted the worse blow, but it was rightly judged to be, if not impossible, yet so hazardous that it was not entertained. What Castagnier was able to do with four small vessels and a few hundred cut-throats in February 1797, might conceivably have been done by ten line-of-battle ships and several thousand good soldiers in 1796. But a Government which was ready to risk a few small vessels and a flying column of men whom it would willingly have seen at the bottom of the Channel was not disposed to run an equal hazard with valuable ships and fine soldiers. An invasion of Ireland would cause great, perhaps paralysing embarrassment to England. The country was on the verge of rebellion, France was full of Irish exiles who promised the co-operation of their countrymen. So an invasion of Ireland was undertaken.

All through the summer preparations were made. The English Government was well served by its spies in France. Some of them were among the Irish exiles. But it could learn nothing definite as to the exact aim of the invasion which was known to be in preparation. The vacillations of the French Government served it in one way. No definite information could be obtained where no definite plan was adopted. Nothing could be done save stand on guard and [337]watch. The measures of defence taken were sufficient if they had been more effectually applied. A force kept at about fifteen sail of the line cruised off Brest. A western squadron of five, under Curtis, watched beyond the Brest blockade. The grand fleet, under Bridport, lay at Spithead to support and reinforce. But Spithead was too difficult to leave against head-winds and too far off to give an adequate support to the Brest blockade, and the blockade itself was somewhat slackly kept. Our measures were half measures. We had partially dropped Howe’s plan of watch from afar, but had not yet adopted St. Vincent’s close watch on the spot.

On the 15th December 1796 the French expedition drew out from the inner harbour of Brest to the outer roadstead. Some collisions took place among the vessels on their way, but they were not more serious than the similar misfortunes which were to befall Bridport’s ships a few days later. On the 16th the French fleet was ready to start. It consisted of seventeen sail of the line, fourteen frigates, two corvettes, one brig, and three luggers, with transports, and it carried 14,750 soldiers under the command of Hoche. The French admirals—Morard de Galle, Bouvet, and Nielly—had hoisted their flags in frigates, which they had the option to do; but Richery had his flag in the Pégase, 74. Morard de Galle was with Hoche in the Fraternité. The wind was from the east, the weather frosty and clear. The orders were to steer through the Raz du Sein, the southerly passage through the rocks which on that side bound the roadstead of Brest. This course was adopted in order to avoid the English blockading force the better. But on the 16th our ships under Admiral Colpoys, who had just taken up the command, were some fifty miles away to the west, too far off to strike quickly, with the east wind against them—too far off also to be quickly warned by Sir Edward Pellew, who with his own frigate, the Indefatigable, 44, and others, was close to the French port. When through the Raz the French were to steer for 120 miles W.¼S.W. and then head for Bantry.

A detailed account of their cruise belongs rather to the history of the French than of the English Navy, which, for reasons about to be given, as good as vanished for the next few days. But the fate of the invasion cannot be left untold. [338]As the day grew on on the 16th, the wind drew round to the S.E., and became unfavourable to a fleet passing the narrow Raz du Sein. With an unpardonable want of foresight, Morard de Galle had not provided for this highly probable contingency. So when he suddenly decided in the afternoon to take the direct course to the west through the wide Iroise, and steered in that direction himself, he was followed only by the Nestor, 74, and the Romaine and Cocarde frigates. The rest of the ships either followed Bouvet through the Raz du Sein or hesitated and made movements which are now uncertain. One, the Séduisant, was wrecked on the Grand Stevenec. Pellew, who watched the French closely, added to their confusion by false fires and signals of no meaning. He sent the Phœbe frigate to warn Colpoys, and when assured of the direction the French were taking, went himself in search of his admiral.

The French, therefore, were divided from the beginning, and so remained. On the 17th Bouvet had with him the vessels which had followed him through the Raz du Sein, eight line-of-battle ships and eight frigates. The wind in drawing round to the S.E. had become milder, bringing with it a drizzle of rain and fog. He steered for Bantry, and on the 18th crossed the track of the Fraternité which was standing to the south to look for him. Thus the French naval and military commanders-in-chief went roaming out to the Atlantic, looking for their command, which was steering away from them. On the 19th, Bouvet was joined by Nielly and Richery with six sail of the line and two frigates. In variable and gusty winds they pushed on for Bantry. The wind was from the west when he sighted Mizen Head on the 21st, but it swung round to the east, and drove him to leeward of Bantry Bay, and to the point of Dursey Island. Only eight of the line-of-battle ships and six frigates succeeded in tacking into the bay with Bouvet, where they anchored between Bear Island and the southern side, instead of going into Beerhaven, between the island and the northern bank, where they would have been safe. The others remained beating to and fro outside. On the 24th the weather was fine, and there were 6000 soldiers in the ships with Bouvet. A landing could easily have been effected, and as there were few troops in the south of Ireland, the French might well have occupied Cork, where lay an [339]immense mass of military and naval stores. But the command in the absence of Hoche was in the hands of Grouchy, whose name is associated with a still greater French disaster eighteen years later. He hesitated. No landing was made, and on the 25th the wind settled in the east, and blew with fury down the bay. Bouvet was forced to sea in his frigate, lost heart, and made for Brest, which he reached on the 1st January 1797. Bedout, of the Indomptable, 80, to whom the command now fell, held on till the 29th, when he too cut his cables and fled seaward before the easterly wind. All hope was not given up even yet, and some of the French vessels went to the mouth of the Shannon, which had been named as the alternative landing-place. They found nothing to do, and so turned home to France. Meanwhile the two commanders-in-chief had been groping for their commands. The Fraternité had been lost in fog and tossed in storm. She had sighted the lights of Bouvet, had mistaken them for those of an enemy; had turned away; had been chased, compelled to throw guns overboard to lighten herself for flight, and to alter her course again and again; had returned off Bantry Bay on the 29th, only to find the Révolution, 74, endeavouring to save the crew of the sinking Scévola frigate, and had finally steered for France. The wrecks of the French armament reached home between the 11th and 14th January. Afflavit Deus et dissipati sunt.

One of the line-of-battle ships carried into Bantry Bay by Bouvet was destined not to escape. The Droits de l’homme, 74, commanded by Captain Baron La Crosse, had been among the vessels which went to the mouth of the Shannon. While cruising there, she captured the Cumberland letter of marque—that is to say, trading-ship, which carried a commission authorising her to act as a privateer. The Cumberland had on board thirty soldiers on their way home from the West Indies. La Crosse took the English passengers and crew into his own ship, and sent the Cumberland to France with a prize crew. Then he headed for home, after looking once more into Bantry. He lost sight of the Irish coast on the 9th, and on the 13th, in strong westerly winds and thick hazy weather, calculated that he was seventy-five miles to the west of the Penmarchs. Early in the afternoon two vessels were [340]seen to windward in the haze, and Captain La Crosse steered to the S.E. to avoid them. At about 3.30 two other vessels were seen to leeward cutting off his road to France. They were the Indefatigable, 44, Captain Sir Edward Pellew, and the Amazon, 36, Captain Reynolds. Captain La Crosse had to fight his way home between them. In conversation with an English army officer, taken prisoner in the Cumberland, Lieutenant Pipon, he had declared that he would sink rather than surrender. His conduct was to show that these were not words of idle boasting. The Droits de l’homme was indeed a 74 and her opponents were frigates, but though one 74 was adjudged more than a match for two frigates, she was at a disadvantage. She was so built that her lower deck ports were fourteen French inches—nearly sixteen English—nearer the water than in other vessels of her class. While under a press of sail to throw off the pursuit of the ships seen to windward, she lost her fore and maintop. Having no sufficient spread of sail aloft to steady her she rolled heavily, and the water poured on to her main-deck. It ran down the cables on the English prisoners who had been sent to the cable tier to escape the shot of their friends. So Captain La Crosse was not able to make use of the 36-pounders on his main deck but had to rely on the 18-pounders and smaller guns of his upper decks, firing from a high and most unstable platform. The Droits de l’homme had in fact the use of a lighter broadside than the Indefatigable, a very heavy frigate, armed with 24-pounders on her main deck. Her sole advantage was that she carried 700 soldiers in addition to her crew, and could replace the 250 casualties she suffered in the action.

It began at 5.30. The Droits de l’homme was steering to the west for the coast of France. The Indefatigable overtook her, and tried to rake her. The French captain baffled the attempt, and then Pellew shot ahead, risking and receiving a raking broadside, which did his frigate little harm, and placing himself on the Frenchman’s bow. At a quarter to seven the Amazon came up and took her station on the other bow. At 7.30 the two English frigates shot ahead, the Indefatigable to repair damage to her rigging, the Amazon, because the press of sail she carried to gain [341]her station had given her so much way that she could not stop. Then the action was resumed, to be again suspended to repair damage at 10.30 and once more resumed. It lasted through the night. The English crews fought with fine manhood and skill, often up to their waists in water on the main decks. Guns broke from their fastenings and had to be made secure again—as often as four times. They were often filled with water after being loaded, and the charges had to be withdrawn before they could be reloaded and safely fired. Repairs had to be done in the rigging, and the Amazon used up every inch of spare rope. The Frenchman fought with a heroism which surmounted the loss of all hope of victory, or even of escape, manœuvring to board so long as his ship could answer her helm, and always baffled by the English frigates, which were under perfect control. At 4.30 the moon broke through the clouds for a moment, and Lieutenant George Bell, on the forecastle of the Indefatigable, saw the land. None of the three ships could know where they were. It was only certain that they were on a lee-shore, the wind blowing strong and the sea running high. The Indefatigable was turned to the north, and was followed by the Amazon. Just before daybreak breakers were seen on the lee-bow. The Indefatigable was brought round to the south, but not the Amazon which was unmanageable, and was driven on shore. As the Indefatigable stood southward in the first light of day, her crew saw they were in Audierne Bay, and Droits de l’homme lay on her side in front of Ploxevet with the sea breaking over her. Her mizen-mast, the lower foremast, and bowsprit had gone. The cable of the only anchor she had left was cut by English shot, and after a manful effort to reeve a new one had been made, and the anchor had failed to hold, she drove ashore. The position of the Indefatigable was terrible, for her one chance of escape was to round the Penmarchs at the south point of Audierne Bay, and she was damaged. But her crew and officers showed “their full value,” as their captain gratefully acknowledged. She cleared the rocks and gained the open sea.

The Droits de l’homme lay without possibility of help, [342]for two days, in the breakers, and two more passed before the last survivors were taken from the wreck. The story may be read in the narrative of Lieutenant Pipon. The English prisoners were called up from the cable tier with the cry Pauvres anglais! Pauvres anglais! Montes Bien vite. Nous sommes tous perdus. When the boats were lowered some women and children, who were among the English prisoners, were given the first chance of escape. But the boats were shattered alongside, and they all perished. The Droits de l’homme lay breaking up, and the crew perished slowly, one brave man, the sailmaker, Lamende, nearly lost his life in an attempt to swim ashore with a line, and an army officer who followed him was drowned. The English worked manfully in the common cause, one of them, a merchant skipper, going over the side fourteen times to save the people in the boats. They could get neither food nor fresh water. The pangs of hunger can be outlived but not those of thirst. Many drank urine and salt water and went mad. Of the 380 who remained on the wreck on the fourth night half were dead in the morning. The French Government released the English prisoners freely, and gave several of them rewards in money. The shipwrecked crew of the Amazon were well treated. La Crosse survived and was promoted. The loss of the Droits de l’homme was an incident in a campaign, but skill and manhood, heroism, humanity, and devotion to duty are noble and immortal things. We cannot look at them too carefully or too long.

In all these events fortune had a great share, but excepting the activity of a few frigates, the Royal Navy had little part. When Admiral Colpoys heard from the captain of the Phœbe that the French were at sea, his fleet was in want of stores, and he knew not where the enemy was gone. So he bore up for Spithead, and, dropping part of his ships at the western ports on the way, reached it on the 31st December with six sail. Bridport, urged to get quickly to sea when the Government learnt that the French were out, had started on the 25th, four days after Bouvet reached Bantry. But he met difficulties. The Prince ran into the Sans-Pareil, and the Formidable into the Ville de Paris. The Atlas grounded. Then he was stopped in a gale, and he did not sail with his fourteen [343]ships of the line till the 3rd January 1797. He cruised about, from Ushant to Cape Clear, chased the much chased Fraternité on the 9th, and intercepted nothing. He was fifty-seven miles west of Ushant when the last of the returning French ships entered Brest. Before he returned to Spithead on the 3rd February, he detached Rear-Admiral Sir W. Parker to join Jervis with the Prince George, Namur, Irresistible, Orion, Colossus, and Thalia frigate. They were to be usefully employed, for it was this reinforcement which enabled Jervis to fight the battle of Cape St. Vincent.

The five line-of-battle ships and the frigate were sent to join Jervis at his rendezvous at Cape St. Vincent in fulfilment of a promise that the squadron carried off by Mann should be replaced, and his force brought up again to twenty sail. They served to bring him up to the fifteen he had had a few weeks before they joined him on the 6th February. The Courageux, 80, had been lost, and the Gibraltar, 80, driven on the Pearl Rock during the furious gale of the 10th December, in which Villeneuve escaped from the Mediterranean. Shortly after Jervis left Gibraltar for Lisbon on the 16th December, the Zealous, 74, struck on a rock in Tangier Bay, and was badly damaged. As he entered Lisbon on the 21st, the Bombay Castle, 74, ran ashore and was lost. When he left it on the 18th January to escort a Portuguese convoy out of danger and to observe the Spaniards, the St. George, 98, after running into and dismasting a Portuguese frigate, grounded heavily on the great Cachop. His command had therefore been brought down to ten by the 6th February. To complete the tale it may be added that the fifteen were nearly reduced to fourteen or even thirteen while it was still dark on the morning of the 12th, when the Culloden, 74, ran into the Colossus, 74, because the second, after holding her wind too long while the fleet was tacking in succession, suddenly bore up across the bows of the first, and tore her fore-rigging badly.[3] The energy of Captain Troubridge of [344]the Culloden brought his ship quickly into trim, and she took a leading part in the coming battle.

Lángara had been superseded by Don José de Córdoba at Carthagena, and the Spanish fleet under its new admiral came on in pursuit of a wild scheme to sail to Brest, join the French ships there, now under the command of Villeneuve, then join a Dutch force in the Texel and renew the attempted invasion of England. The scheme was wild on many grounds, but particularly because of the utter want of quality in the Spanish fleet. It has already been said, when speaking of the American War, that the Spanish Government had endeavoured to form a great fleet by building more ships than it could afford, and had never had money to spend on training officers and men. Every evil it suffered from in 1779 had been intensified under the imbecile government of King Charles IV. A mass of fine ships was heaped up, but they were manned with crews which hardly included a tenth of seamen, and commanded by officers who had had little practice. Nothing had been done to improve it since the wars began in 1793. On the contrary, neglect, failure to pay or even feed the men, made the service odious, and it grew even worse. The best officer in the Spanish navy, Jose Mazaredo, had refused to take the command unless the Government bound itself to commission no more ships than it could man. He had been arrested, to punish him for questioning the wisdom of his superiors. Every officer in the Spanish fleet knew its unfitness to meet the English.

Every English officer knew its weaknesses too, and nobody better than Jervis. He was aware that the narrow failure of the invasion of Ireland had shaken the nerve of the country. The discontent in the fleet, which was just about to break into mutiny, was not unknown to him. A victory was very necessary to England. A weak man would have [345]looked to numbers alone, and would have been cautious. Jervis looked to the quality of the enemy, and the greatness of the crisis. He saw how much better it would be that every one of his fifteen ships should go to the bottom if only she could take a Spaniard with her, than that Córdoba should reach Brest. Therefore as Hood sailed from Antigua resolved to fight Grasse, be his number what they might, so Jervis waited at Cape St. Vincent, resolute to give battle whatever numbers the Spaniards might bring against him.

On the morning of the 13th February he was joined by the Minerva, 36, which had just sighted the Spaniards, and had been chased by them. Nelson had been sent up the Mediterranean in her to bring away Sir Gilbert Elliot from Porto Ferrajo, whither he had retired after the evacuation of Corsica. He now hoisted his commodore’s pennant in the Captain, 74. At four in the afternoon the signal was made to clear for action, and during the night the fleet remained under reduced canvas, keeping its post of watch. The signal guns of the Spaniards were heard at half-past one on the morning of the 14th, and at half-past two, a Scotchman, Captain Campbell, in the Portuguese service, who commanded the Carlotta frigate, spoke the flagship, and informed Jervis that the Spaniards were fifteen miles to windward—that is, to the west of him. Daylight came on the 14th with fresh breezes from the west and a thick haze. At six, reefs were shaken out and the search for the enemy began. By seven, strange sails were seen in the haze to the S.S.W. stretching across our route to the S.E. The reconnoitring frigates and sloops reported their numbers, which were discovered to be greater as the air cleared. At 8.20 the signal was made to prepare for battle, and at 9.20 the Culloden, Blenheim, and Prince George were ordered to chase. When at 9.47 the Bonne Citoyenne sloop reported seeing more vessels to the S.W., the Irresistible and Colossus were ordered to join in the chase. The Orion joined without orders and was not recalled. About ten the air cleared, and the two fleets were fully revealed to one another.

The Spaniards were aware of the approach of Jervis, and two of their look-out frigates had actually seen part of his [346]ships, but they underestimated his strength. Their national carelessness, intensified perhaps by the desperation of men who knew they were devoted to a hopeless task, was never more conspicuous. Their ships were wandering in two confused shoals, one of nineteen sail was to windward and westward of the English, another of six was to leeward and eastward. The two were trying to join, but there was a wide interval between them. A twenty-sixth Spaniard was seen outside the windward division, and a twenty-seventh was coming up from leeward. Jervis at once headed from the open space between the two divisions. At 10.57 the order was given to form in a line of battle ahead and astern of the flagship as most convenient.

As the ships fell in to their places the line was formed thus:—

Culloden  74 T. Troubridge.
Blenheim  90 T. L. Frederich.
Prince George  98 {
Rear-Admiral W. Parker.
T. Irwin.
Orion  74 Sir J. Saumarez.
Irresistible  74 G. Martin.
Colossus  74 G. Murray.
Victory 100 {
Admiral Sir J. Jervis.
Captain-of-Fleet R. Calder.
Flag-Captain G. Grey
Barfleur  98 {
Vice-Admiral W. Waldegrave.
J. R. Dacres.
Goliath  74 Sir C. H. Knowles.
Egmont  74 J. Sutton.
Britannia 100 {
Vice-Admiral Thompson.
T. Foley.
Namur  90 J. Whitshed.
Captain  94 {
Commodore Nelson.
      〃             Miller.
Diadem  64 G. H. Towry.
Excellent  74 C. Collingwood.

The manifest confusion of the enemy, added to their knowledge of his want of discipline, gave the British seamen a boundless confidence. His numbers were naught, and Jervis’s men could dismiss that vain show in the spirit of Alaric’s scoffing answer to the threats of the Romans, “The thicker the hay the better the mowing.” There were fine ships in the Spanish fleet, there was personal courage which might have been trained to efficiency, there were some officers who could have handled good instruments if they had had them. There was nothing else. Therefore as the naval historian, James, puts it with more than his usual liveliness, our seamen “rattled through the business, more as if it were a game of harmless sport, than one in which the hazard thrown was for life or death.”

It was half-past eleven when the Culloden opened fire, [347]and by midday the head of the line had cut into the gap between the disorderly shoals of Spaniards. If it had stood on it would have passed, and the enemy would have been free to unite behind it. At 12.8 Jervis signalled the order to tack, and the Culloden came round to fall on the rear of the Spaniards who were huddled to windward heading to the north to pass our line as it went south. The Blenheim and Prince George tacked in succession to follow the Culloden. Tacking in succession was not only a slow movement, but if it had been carried out the fleet must have fallen behind the weather division of the Spaniards. To keep them permanently divided our line should have turned together, or should have begun to turn in succession from the rear. At about 1 o’clock the Spaniards had passed down our line to the rear. Their lee division made a feeble effort at 12.30 to break through the line ahead of the Victory, and join the ships to windward. Their road was barred, and they were headed off in confusion by her heavy fire. One only passed down the line to leeward—it was supposed she was the Oriente, 74—exchanged broadsides with the closing ship, the Excellent, and joined the main body. As she passed the rear she was fired into by our frigates which were in their station to rear and to leeward of the line, and returned their fire without doing them any harm.

So far there was nothing to show that the battle would differ very materially from many previous encounters of fleets passing in opposite directions. It would not have differed if literal obedience had been paid to the signal made by Jervis at 12.51—“To take suitable stations, and engage as arrive up in succession,” which implied that the ships were to continue following one another. But just before, or just at, or just after this moment,[4] Nelson made a movement which altered the whole character of the battle. He brought the Captain round on her keel, passed astern of the Diadem, the vessel next behind him, and ahead of the Excellent. Then [348]he threw himself ahead of the Spaniards, who were trying to pass the rear of the line, and turned them off. He turned his ship from being the third from the rear into being the first of the van, for as he came round he fell on the enemy ahead of the Culloden. The Captain was hotly pressed, but was relieved first by the Culloden then by the Blenheim, which passed between her and the enemy, and pushed on. Other vessels turned and came up to press on the enemy. The rear ships of the line did not follow the example of the Captain till Jervis, who had tacked the Victory, and was standing to the north, ordered them to do so. All then fell on the retreating Spaniards, of whom four were taken. Meanwhile the enemy to leeward had worked to windward, formed a line, and came up to support the main body, falling into position to rear of it. Jervis called his ships together to cover his prizes, and the battle ceased at five o’clock. The circumstances of the capture of two of these prizes, the San Josef and San Nicolas, which were boarded and captured by Nelson, are famous, but the details belong to his biography.

St. Vincent was a famous victory, and, moreover, it was a most timely one. Therefore the joy it caused in England was thoroughly justified, and Jervis nobly earned his earldom. It may seem ungracious to make reservations, and yet some independence of judgment may be exercised even on Jervis. When we have fully recognised the political courage he showed in giving battle when he would not have been blamed for caution, and for the strength of mind which enabled him to scorn vain shows, we are free to ask whether the actual fighting of the battle on his part, and the use made of it, justify us in thinking him “a great captain.” I venture to suggest that they do not. But for the independence of Nelson the battle might well have ended in a passage on opposite tacks and an artillery duel. On the day following the battle he was in sight of twenty-three Spaniards, and he was content to cover his prizes. In his fleet only the Captain had been seriously injured, and the loss acknowledged was only 300 men. He is reported to have said that if the enemy came on he would have burnt his prizes—but why not burn them and attack? He was between the Spaniards and Cadiz, and could have forced on a battle. Their quality being what it [349]was he could surely have destroyed them utterly. Much has been said of Rodney’s failure to follow up his victory on the 12th April 1782. We have heard a great deal of Howe’s weakness on the 1st of June. Everyone has laughed at Hotham, who was too much at ease in Zion, and has applauded Nelson’s impatience with his easy-going ways. Yet Jervis cuddled his prizes as tenderly as ever did Rodney, Howe, or Hotham. Four was a small part of twenty-seven. Still Nelson said nothing, and Jervis stands as a monument of energy. But Nelson was too busy glorying in his triumph, and claiming to have done more than the fine thing he actually had done, even at the expense of brother officers—(witness his acrid tone to Parker, who called his attention to the fact that the Captain had been early and well supported by the Prince George)—and Jervis was a bully. The Spaniards were allowed to reach Cadiz, and Jervis went to Lagos, where he began a new series of operations.

The battle of St. Vincent had ruined the left wing of the great combined Spanish-French-Dutch army of invasion. The French, though as resolute as ever to invade, were not ready so soon after the failure of Morard de Galle to make another attempt. For the rest of the year, therefore, the first part fell to the Dutch fleet. Since Holland had been overrun by the French armies at the close of 1794, and had established the Batavian Republic in February 1795, the Dutch had had many reasons to regret the change. Their French friends fleeced them at home, and England occupied their colonies and swept their trade off the sea.[5] Although the French had dragged Holland into war with England, the hostility of the Dutch was strong and spontaneous. They fretted under the dictation of the French, but they had an active hatred of England, which, after joining with Prussia to impose the rule of the Stadtholder on them by force in 1786, had dragged him into war with France, had failed to give him effective military support, and when the country was overrun by France had at once—on the 19th January—begun to embargo Dutch ships and cargoes lest they should fall into French hands. We acted with reluctance and under the pressure of necessity, but [350]the Dutch, who lost the goods, attributed our action to greed and malignity.

Therefore they entered readily enough into schemes for invading England, but still with caution. They refused to ship French troops in the fleet they prepared in the Texel, being afraid of their allies. The French co-operation was dropped for this, and for other reasons. The French Government of the day was very jealous of its most famous generals, and at that moment of Hoche in particular. It would gladly have seen him sail in search of glory on any venture, the more desperate the better. The general, who perfectly understood the real meaning of all this tender care for his glory—ended by declaring that he would not play Don Quixote on the sea for the benefit of men who would gladly see him at the bottom of it. The combined Dutch and French army of invasion dwindled into a purely Dutch army, and finally disappeared altogether. Daendaels, the general who was to have commanded it, had an hereditary Dutch understanding of maritime things, and he saw that the preliminary to an invasion of England was the defeat of the English fleet in the North Sea. But it was not till October 1797 that the Batavian Republic ordered its naval forces to act.

The command of the English fleet in the North Sea was given to Adam Duncan, then vice-admiral, who was soon afterwards promoted to admiral. Duncan had been a follower of Keppel’s, was commonly known as Keppel’s Duncan, and was by common consent an excellent officer. He had been long unemployed, and it may be the case that he owed his appointment to the command in the North Sea, not only to his reputation as an officer and seaman, but to the fact that he was closely connected by marriage with Dundas, afterwards Lord Melville, who held the vitally important post of general manager of corruption, and distributor of patronage in Pitt’s ministry. When he took up his command he had but four ships of the line with him. It is true that he had the co-operation of a Russian squadron, but it was in a most inefficient state, and proved of small value. In fact it embarrassed our squadron, for it was in incessant need of stores and repairs, while the necessity to flatter the touchy vanity of our ally, the Russian Government, compelled us to [351]treat it with much respect. Duncan had to struggle with even another and a worse defect, which is very exactly indicated in a letter written to him in August 1796, by Sir C. Middleton, afterwards Lord Barham, one of the Commissioners for the navy, who wrote: “My own wish is to have your force very strong, but I plainly perceive, from the many irons we have in the fire, that I shall be overruled. The same cause obliges us to employ your frigates on many extra services, and which I have charged the secretary to acquaint you with as often as it happens; but necessary as this information is for your guidance, I am afraid it is often forgot.”

The best ships were taken for the Brest blockade, the Channel, the Mediterranean. Duncan’s own flagship, the Venerable, 74, leaked continually, and was only kept in service by endless care. It is therefore not to be wondered at that in February 1796 two Dutch squadrons, commanded by Braak and Lucas, succeeded in escaping from the North Sea to the West Indies and the Cape. During the middle of 1797 Duncan’s troubles were enormously increased by the mutiny at the Nore, which will be dealt with in the next chapter.

On the 3rd October Duncan, who had been cruising for eighteen weeks, was compelled to return to Yarmouth for stores with the bulk of his fleet, leaving Captain Henry Trollope with the Russell, 74, Adamant, 50, and several frigates and smaller vessels to watch the Texel. On the 7th the Dutch came out under the command of Jan Willem de Winter, who had been trained as a naval officer, had gone into exile in 1786, had served in the French Republican armies, and was a general in the army as well as vice-admiral in the fleet. His fleet consisted of the

Vryheid 94 {
Vice-Admiral de Winter.
Capt. van Rossern.
Jupiter 94 {
Vice-Admiral Reuntjes.
Rear-Admiral Menses.
Brutus 74 {
Rear-Admiral Bloys.
Capt. van Treslong.
States General 74 Rear-Admiral Storij.
Cerberus 64 Capt. Jacobson.
Devries 64   〃      Zegers.
Gelykeid 64   〃      Ruysen.
Haarlem 64   〃      Wiggerts.
Hercules 64   〃      Van Rysvort.
Leyden 64   〃      Musquetier.
Wassenaer 64   〃      Holland.
Alkmaar 50   〃      Kraft.
Batavier 50   〃      Souters.
Beschermer 50   〃      Hinext.
Delft 50   〃      Verdoorn.

with twelve frigates and other small vessels.


The Dutch were sighted at once by our look-out vessels, and news was sent to Duncan, who left Yarmouth in pursuit. As De Winter was known to be heading to the south, and the wind was northerly, ranging from N.E. to N.W. and W. by N., Duncan stood over the North Sea from Yarmouth to the Texel, to put himself between De Winter and his port, and to gain the weather-gage, which gave him the means of forcing on a battle. The Dutch, well observed by our look-out vessels to whose crews they appeared to be somewhat awkwardly handled, stood over to Lowestoft, and then returned to their own coast. They were seen at about half-past eight on the morning of the 11th October by our fleet, which was coming down from the north with the wind at W. by N.

The ships with Duncan were—

Venerable 74 {
Admiral Duncan.
Capt. W. G. Fairfax.
Monarch 74 {
Vice-Admiral R. Onslow.
Capt. E. O’Brien.
Russel 74 Capt. H. Trollope.
Montagu 74   〃      J. Knight.
Bedford 74 Sir T. Byard.
Powerful 74 Capt. W. O’Brien Drury.
Triumph 74   〃      W. Essington.
Belliqueux 64   〃      J. Inglis.
Agincourt 64   〃      J. Williamson.
Lancaster 64   〃      J. Wells.
Ardent 64   〃      Burgess.
Veteran 64   〃      G. Gregory.
Director 64   〃      W. Bligh.
Monmouth 64   〃      J. Walker.
Isis 64   〃      W. Mitchell.
Adamant 64   〃      W. Hotham.

with eight frigates and small vessels.

Elaborate comparisons have been made to show that one fleet was stronger than the other, but they are idle in view of the simple fact that some of the English did not come into action, and some of the Dutch got out of it sooner than was becoming. Physical obstructions and fortune played a part—and every man who wears a blue coat is not a hero.

As Duncan came down in pursuit his ships were scattered, the best sailors in front, the worst behind. It would have been possible to unite them all, only by causing the more advanced ships to lie to till the laggards came up. At eleven the advanced ships did shorten sail to unite the fleet. But the Dutch, who were in a line heading from S.W. to N.E., with their heads towards the Texel, were gradually drawing towards their own coast. Camperdown, in North Holland, was about nine miles from them. Delay on Duncan’s part would have given them a chance to slip off to [353]the Texel. Therefore his plan for fighting the battle was not, and could not, be carried out. His intention was to form his fleet on the starboard line of bearing, which, with the wind at W. by N., would be a line from S.W. to N.E. parallel to the Dutch. Then he meant to act as Howe had meant to do on the 1st June, break through the enemy from windward to leeward, all along from van to rear. As the day wore on towards the early dark of October and the Dutch drew nearer the land, the impatience of Duncan, which was patent to his officers, grew beyond control. He renounced all attempt to form a line, ordered Onslow, who was to the south and leeward of him, to break through the enemy’s rear, and the whole fleet to break through. Then first Onslow, and next the admiral went down on the enemy, setting an example to the ships about them. Duncan, an old friend and correspondent of Clerk, was penetrated with his confidence that the proper policy for an English fleet was to break into the enemy’s formation and produce a mêlée. Moreover, we have his actions to prove how well he understood that whatever the fate of the English ships was to be, the country would be served if the Dutch were left in no condition to invade for the next six months.

The battle began at 12.40, and at 3 it ended. The two hours and a half while it lasted were the hottest hours of battle in the whole war. The Dutch were awkward in fleet manœuvres from want of practice, but they were more phlegmatic, more solid, better gunners, and better ropemen than the French. They reserved their fire till our ships were close, and their two first broadsides, as English officers experienced them confessed, “were terrible.” Onslow, who cut through the line astern of the Dutch between the Jupiter and the Haarlem, and Duncan, who cut the line behind the States General, were both heavily pounded, and so were the vessels which followed them. If there was final concentration of English ships on the Dutch centre and rear, there had been a preliminary concentration of Dutch ships on the English leaders. Three vessels lost more than a hundred men each. The Ardent, 64, which belonged to Duncan’s division and was closely engaged with the Vryheid, lost no less than 148 killed and wounded—more than a third of her crew. Her [354]captain, Burgess, and her master, Don, were both slain. The total loss was officially stated to be 825, but the committee appointed to distribute a public subscription for the wounded and the families of the dead put it at 1040. The eleven Dutch ships taken were so shattered as to be of no further use. Admiral De Winter was taken prisoner. The ships in the Dutch van escaped too soon, after doing too little to help the others. On our side all did not come equally well into action. Captain John Williamson, of the Agincourt, had hung about the outskirts of the fight in a very feeble way. In 1779 he had been a lieutenant with Captain Cook, and had witnessed the murder of his commander from a launch, not only without attempting to save him, but without attempting to rescue his body. He was brought to a court martial and, though acquitted of cowardice, was sentenced to be put at the bottom of the list of post-captains for misconduct.

Nelson once complained that actions fought near home were more thought of than those fought far off. Camperdown is an exception to the rule—if rule there be. It was early half forgotten, and is much neglected among our battles. Yet it was a great deliverance from fear of invasion at the time, and the quality of the enemy we conquered must place it far above St. Vincent as a battle. At Trafalgar a far better appointed fleet than Duncan’s fought a much less formidable enemy, on the same method as he fought the Dutch. Much pedantry has been expended in inquiring whether both admirals did or did not alter their first plans—as if it could ever be a reproach to a leader of men that he adapted his actions to the circumstances. That Duncan did not waste time in forming the starboard line of bearing, and thereby give the Dutch an opportunity to slip away, is manifestly true—and to a plain man it appears that he did alter his plan. Nelson at Trafalgar may have done what he had meant to do all along, but he had Duncan’s battle to show the advantage of doing it. Yet Duncan is commonly spoken of to-day as a brave old fellow who blundered on a victory, and nobody has noted how little originality was required in 1805 to do what had been already done in 1797. I know of no reason why Duncan is not to be credited with sense enough to foresee, and intend, the consequences of his acts.



Authorities.—In addition to the general histories and biographies of officers named already, two pamphlets ought to be consulted for the mutinies. A Narrative of Occurrences which took place during the Mutiny at the Nore in May and June 1797, by Rear-Admiral Charles Cunningham, 1829; and The Natural Defence of an Insular Empire, by Admiral Phillip Paton, 1810.

The year of St. Vincent and Camperdown was also the year of the great mutinies which mark a turning-point in the history of the navy. They were the culmination of long-standing grievances caused by old evils.

If we could reconstruct a crew (supposing the thing to have been done fairly and without beautifying), the spectacle would surprise, and somewhat disenchant, the spectator. To do it fairly we must take not a crack frigate commanded by a popular officer with a good reputation for luck in prize-taking, but one of the ordinary vessels, liners or less, which did the bulk of the heavy work of the old wars. If the date chosen had been well on in any of our naval wars, and certainly if it had been taken in the midst of the last and greatest, the figures of wax or wood—which we suppose to be properly ticketed—would tell a curious tale. It would be startling to see how many foreigners there were, how many landsmen, how many boys, how many quota-men, and state-the-case-men. The quota-men were those whom each county of the United Kingdom was called upon at one period in the old war to supply for the fleet. Of course they all came from the Cave of Adullam, and were, in fact, the scamps of every neighbourhood, tempted by high bounties. Their character is sufficiently well indicated by the fact that Parker, who headed the mutiny at the Nore, was a quota-man from Perth. The state-the-case-man is more complicated. As the press-gang [356]swept all fish into its net, a great many were seized who were, or believed themselves to be, exempted. They were for ever appealing to the Admiralty for release, and the Department kept writing to the captains about them. For convenience, these letters were marked outside “State the case.” Hence the expression a “state-the-case-man,” as applied to the poor forced complaining creatures, of whom every captain would have been delighted to get rid, if only he could have kept his complement up without them. Of such material our crews were largely formed in the most triumphant times; for the navy was not popular with the real sailors, and least of all with the best. Although the prime men who were the real nerve of a crew were supposed to form a third only of the complement, they contributed more to the list of deserters than the ordinary seamen, landsmen, boys, and marines put together. Every ship carried a proportion of landsmen, who were not expected to do real sailor’s work. This perversity of the seamen was a sore grievance to officers. Admiral Cunningham, who was captain of the frigate Clyde during the mutiny at the Nore, and wrote an account of it, was very severe on them. He thought that they were as happy as mortal sailor could expect to be. But they were of another way of thinking.

This wrongheadedness of theirs, too, was an old story—as old as the seventeenth century—and, in spite of Admiral Cunningham, was thoroughly intelligible. It was a question of pay, both in amount and manner. As far back as the reign of William III., Captain Saint-Lo put the whole thing into a nutshell. The wages of A.B.’s were then 23s. a month for a month of twenty-eight days, which is 25s. a month on the year. This rate of pay remained unchanged, in spite of the fall in the value of money, till the mutiny at Spithead scared Parliament into greater, but still very measured, liberality. Now in Captain Saint-Lo’s time the average wages of a good man in the merchant service during war were 50s. and 60s. a month. In the eighteenth century they were known to go as high as £4. The men who manned the coal-ships in the North Sea earned as much as £6, £7, or £8 the run. Here was a contrast which the A.B. naturally perpended. But what had equal, or even greater, [357]weight with him was the reflection that, whereas a man in the merchant service was sure of his money at the end of the voyage, the man-of-war’s man could never know when he would be paid. Admiral Cunningham quoted as one of the blessings of the sailors that the Admiralty had done all human wisdom could do to see that each man got exactly his right amount; but, unluckily, it was precisely the fatherly care of “My Lords” which constituted the grievance. The treatment given to the seamen had indeed been improved in the course of the eighteenth century. In 1758, George Grenville, who was then Treasurer of the Navy, persuaded Parliament to pass “an Act for the Encouragement of Seamen employed in the Royal Navy; and for establishing a regular method for the punctual, frequent, and certain payment of their wages; and for enabling them more easily and readily to remit the same for the support of their wives and families; and for preventing frauds and abuses attending such payments.” But these fine promises of the title of the Act were spoilt by many limitations. A man who volunteered was to receive an advance of two months, and could assign part of his pay for the support of his family. All men who had served for a year and upwards were entitled to be paid the wages due to them (less a deduction of six months, which was kept back as a guarantee against desertion) whenever the ship they were in came into a home port where there was a Commissioner of the Navy. But pressed men got no advance, and none of the men were paid when serving abroad, or at a home port other than a naval dockyard. The deduction of six months was calculated in a way which the sailors complained of. Their wages were paid by months of four weeks, but the deductions were made in calendar months.

In practice the men got their wages not in hard coin on board, but in pay-tickets, which had to be presented at an office, and were only cashed when all the red tape had been duly complied with. As a ship’s commission in war-time might last four years, we can easily imagine what this might mean for a man who had been pressed out of a home-coming merchant-ship at the beginning of hostilities, and also what it meant for his wretched wife and family. But even this was not all. It frequently happened, when there was great [358]need to keep fleets at sea, that when a ship was “paid off” and her crew had received their “tickets,” they were bodily turned over to a fresh ship, with their paper money in their hands, and sent off on another four years’ cruise. Admiral Ekins, who wrote after the great war, when something had been done for the men, says that he heard of a case of one who had served fourteen years without touching a penny of actual pay. This he gives as mere report; but he adds that, to his own knowledge, men often served nine years without the receipt of wages. After that, one understands what Nelson meant when he said that his heart was with the men who mutinied at Spithead. After all, their main demands were that their pay should be raised above the figure fixed in Charles II.’s time, when money was worth twice what it was in 1797, and that they should be paid whenever a ship returned to England—which assuredly were moderate requests. The practical results of the old system were horrible. For one thing, as the men had to buy their clothes, they were actually reduced to nakedness and rags for want of money. When a crew were turned over in the style described above, the Jews (by race or occupation) were allowed on board. To them the sailors sold their tickets at the price they were likely to get in a forced market. On these occasions a certain latitude was allowed by the humanity of officers. Liquor was winked at, and the “wives” of the sailors were allowed on board. The scenes which followed on the mess decks reproduced the animalism of the South Sea Islands without the picturesqueness. But it was not only by the “Jews,” and on board, that the unfortunate sailor was pillaged. William Hodges, who in 1695 made a pathetic representation of their grievances to Parliament, draws a dreadful picture of the misery inflicted on the whole class by the monstrous system on which they were paid. Hodges does not measure his language, and was plainly one of those good men in whom zeal for justice has eaten up moderation; but his statements are too substantially in agreement with probability to be rejected. From him we learn that when the sailors’ tickets were sent home to their families to be cashed, the poor women were compelled to come up to the pay office for their money, even from Scotland, and then if they were ignorant [359]of the forms to be complied with, or a “Q” (query) was put against any name, which he declares was often done on frivolous pretexts, they were put off, and had their journey for nothing. Of course they sold the tickets to traders, who made a business of speculating in them. Hodges takes great credit to himself for having bought large quantities at the very moderate discount of half a crown in the pound. It is probable that, allowing for all risks—stoppage of deserters’ wages and Government delays—he did not make much profit. Still, his boast shows that a sailor’s family was thought lucky if it only lost 12·5 per cent. on his wages. Hodges may be believed when he says that in one small precinct of London he found a thousand, besides children, belonging to seamen’s families in absolute destitution.

There must have been a great fund of loyalty and discipline in England in the eighteenth century; otherwise all this would not have been endured for over a century by armed men, who again and again had the country, apparently at least, at their mercy. It is noteworthy that it was mainly against this that the fleet mutinied at Spithead. The Nore business was the work of political agitators—quota-men, themselves supported by quota-men. Little was said of the cat, which may, we venture to think, be taken as evidence that the cat was never the grievance it has been called. Admiral Cunningham asserts that the good men considered it a protection against the bad. The grievance of the pay, and the inhumanly long detention on shipboard, explains why the real seamen, who knew how valuable they were to the merchant-skipper, avoided the navy as much as they could. It is said by Admiral Ekins that, when Captain Manley Dixon was commissioning a ship for the Mediterranean, his crew was made up by men turned over from a ship which had just come home. A body of them came to him to represent that they had not been ashore for nine years, and to ask that, if he could, the captain would give them a run. Manley Dixon gave them his promise that he would, and kept it; nor had he any cause to regret his humanity. Captains of this stamp did much to alleviate the hardship of the system, but it sufficiently explains the straits to which we were driven to get good men. They were, indeed, extreme. Prisoners of [360]war, smugglers, debtors, boys, old men, convicts, anything that could stand on two legs—all were taken. When Manley Dixon himself laid the Lion across the bows of the Guillaume Tell outside of Malta, he was not only short-handed, but the large majority of his crew were boys—which explains why he did not allow himself to be boarded by the Frenchman, who had some two thousand seasoned fighters on board. There is an absolutely comic story told of Sir Home Popham, who was going on a foreign station as Admiral. He complained to the Admiralty that his crew were mere boys. In reply, he was told that his books showed that he had received his due proportion of A.B.’s—which is, by the way, a pleasing illustration of the trustworthiness of official papers. Popham was not to be fobbed off in this style. He weighed his crew, and found that they averaged under jockey-weight. Then the Admiralty did scrape together a hundred grown men for him. A crew of boys with a stiffening of seasoned seamen was not unpopular with captains, for it was active and amenable to discipline. The convicts were another story, yet even with them something could be done. It is said by Ekins that one captain received a batch of fifty at once. He called them aft, and made them a pregnant speech. He said that he knew their record, but was resolved to consider them as men of fair character, subject to this one proviso—if any of them misbehaved, he was to be punished twice as severely as another man. It was noted that the convicts generally behaved particularly well, and no doubt came back reformed characters. Perhaps it may be said that this is not only a disenchanting picture, but that it starts the question how, with such materials, we contrived to do so well? To this question several answers may be made. The human animal, even when he is a quota-man, state-the-case-man, or convict, is indefinitely improvable by discipline, particularly when it can be promptly and efficaciously enforced by the cat. Our discipline was good, and the cat was not, as a rule, abused; such officers as Pigot and Corbet being, in spite of foolish talk to the contrary, the exception and not the rule. Then there was always a proportion of men who preferred the order of the navy, and its life of adventure, to the pay of the merchant service. These seasoned the lump. Then there [361]was the captain, with his harsh standard of efficiency and his nearly absolute power, to keep everybody up to the mark. We had an admirable cadre of officers, and under them a good body of warrant officers. They, with a proportion of really fine seamen, and the steady corps of marines, supplied a mould so strong and so admirably built that a great deal of inferior material could be run into it without too much risk.

It was impossible that discontent should not be rife, and its existence was shown by the mutinies in individual ships which occurred during the American rebellion. They were generally hushed up, and quieted by concessions to the mutineers; but there was no general removal of grievances. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary war the grievances of the men were renewed and intensified. The press needed to supply the immense fleets then armed was severe. A rise of thirty per cent. in the price of all necessaries reduced the already inadequate pay to a starvation level. Minor grievances were more keenly felt because of the increase in the great one. It was the custom of the Admiralty to give the men only fourteen ounces for a pound in their rations, in order to prevent what was called leakage of stores. The medical stores were insufficient and bad; indeed, the whole medical department was ignorant and corrupt. The Greenwich Hospital pension was only £7, as compared with the £13 given at Chelsea. Then, too, the experiments of Captain Cook, and the reforms in diet by which Blane kept Rodney’s fleet in the West Indies in perfect health, had taught the sailors that fresh vegetables were an effectual protection against scurvy. Yet the Admiralty persisted in serving out flour to the squadrons when they were in harbour in England. The seamen felt—and they would have been made of strange flesh and blood if they had not felt—bitterly aggrieved that they, who were necessarily exposed to great hardships for the defence of their country, should also be unnecessarily subjected to a loathsome disease for want of what the Admiralty could easily have supplied. Here, then, were all the elements of mutiny. Legitimate discontent among the men, felt most keenly by the prime seamen, who exercised a great influence over their less skilful comrades, but also felt by the ordinary seamen, landsmen, and marines; [362]and at the Admiralty an authority which was obstinate in neglecting real grievances, and had shown itself weak in dealing with insubordination in the last war. It was certain that as soon as a general combination could be formed—always a difficult thing to do among ships on active service—there would be an outbreak. Admiral Patton had predicted one as far back as ’92.

In the winter of 1796 a combination was formed in the Channel fleet then cruising off Brest under Bridport. It seems to have been confined to the prime seamen, who calculated, rightly, as it turned out, that their comrades would follow their lead. Four anonymous petitions were sent to Howe—“Black Dick,” as the sailors called him—who had been compelled by gout to resign the command of the Channel fleet, and was recruiting at Bath. Howe sent them to the Admiralty, which, finding them in the same handwriting, dismissed them as the work of an “ill-intentioned person,” and of no importance. This neglect was taken by the men as a proof that even Howe, who was very popular with them, could or would do nothing for them. They decided to act, and the opportunity came when Bridport anchored at Spithead in the early spring of 1797. It was known that the fleet would go to sea on the 16th of April, and the men were resolved that the order to weigh should not be obeyed till their grievances were redressed. By some means, which have never been revealed, news of this decision was given to Captain Patton of the Transport Office at Portsmouth on the 12th, and by him carried to the Port-Admiral, who at once forwarded it to London by semaphore. The Admiralty recognised the gravity of the danger at last, but could think of no way of dealing with it except to order the fleet to sea at once. Bridport hoisted his signal accordingly, but the men were ready with their plan and their determination. They manned the yards with cheers, hoisted the red flag—which was the recognised signal for battle—at the main, and took the command out of the hands of the officers. There are some features of this mutiny which are altogether exceptional. No man’s name is associated with it as leader; it was absolutely unanimous, the marines joining eagerly with the sailors; no officer was hurt; the admiral’s [363]flag was not hauled down; the discipline of the ships went on as before—so much so that some bad characters, who took the opportunity to get drunk, were soundly flogged by their own comrades; but the crews would not get up anchor. A committee of thirty men—two delegates from each ship—was appointed to state their grievances to the king and both Houses of Parliament. It met in the cabin of Howe’s old flagship, the Queen Charlotte, and there drew up its petitions. They are excellently worded, quite free from bombast, and contain only a demand—firmly enough made, to be sure—that the pay of the A.B.’s might be raised to a shilling a day, and that of all others in proportion; that their grievances as to pension and rations should be removed, and that reasonable leave should be given to men in home ports to see their families. The delegates also insisted on a free pardon from the king, to be given in all the forms.

The devil in whom it had refused to believe being now raised, the Admiralty behaved after the unchanging pattern of authorities, who are obstinate when they might have yielded with credit. It became frightened. The position was, indeed, a dangerous one enough; for, though little memory of the fact remains, the spirit of the army was not much better than that of the fleet. The military pay had also remained stationary since the reign of Charles II., and in 1797 there was a serious danger that the garrisons near London would break out as the sailors had done. Fortunately, the Duke of York used his influence with success. The War Office was induced to be wise in time, and military discipline was saved from the shock of forced concessions to mutineers. There being no Duke of York to speak for the sailors, things had been allowed to drift to the pass they had now reached. By this time it was clear that the whole fleet was discontented. In the circumstances the use of force was perhaps impossible. There remained the alternative of instant, frank, and unreserved compliance with demands which, after all, were very moderate. Concession ought to have been the easier because it was universally felt in the country that the men were only asking for what should have been spontaneously granted at the outbreak of the war. The Admiralty took the weak man’s favourite middle course, which combines all the evils of the [364]other two, and misses the good in them. The Board went down to Portsmouth and began to negotiate with the delegates. It showed a distinct tendency to make scapegoats of the subordinate officers, but refused for days to promise the rise of pay. The result of this line of action hardly needs to be told. The delegates refused to abate a jot of their demands. They even increased them by adding a demand that the grievances of particular ships should be corrected—in other words, that officers accused of tyrannical conduct should be dismissed. After ten days of useless talk, “My Lords” surrendered at discretion, promised everything, and took themselves off, having done their best to consolidate the power of the delegates, and not a little to weaken still further the authority of the officers. The red flag was hauled down, the Committee was dissolved, everything appeared to have returned to the old order, and the mutiny to be at an end. It was promised that the fleet should not go to sea till the House of Commons had voted the money for the increase of pay, and the king’s proclamation of pardon was published. Though it appeared difficult for the Admiralty to add to the blunders it had already committed, it contrived to do so. Some delay took place in the publication of the king’s proclamation, and the introduction of the vote for the wages in the House of Commons. As days passed, and nothing was heard of the proclamation or of the vote, the suspicions of the men were aroused. They knew the danger in which they stood, and began to fear that the Admiralty meant to cheat them. It was an absurd enough suspicion, but a not unnatural one. The Admiralty ought at least to have foreseen that it could only be removed by the utmost promptitude and openness, since there was no power at hand to control the fleet. Yet it kept silence, and delayed the execution of its promises from day to day. At Spithead discipline seemed to be restored. The bulk of the squadron moved round to St. Helens, leaving Colpoys’s flagship, the London, and the Marlborough at Spithead. Whether order would have remained unbroken is perhaps doubtful; but just at this moment the Admiralty took a step which set the whole mutiny flaming again. An order was sent down to the captains of ships which was a masterpiece of folly. It began [365]by instructing the officers to be more careful in superintending the issue of stores to the men, and then proceeded to give them a number of directions as to the course to be taken for the preventing of future mutinies. The first part, which by implication accused them of pilfering—a charge never made by the delegates—caused profound indignation among the officers. The second, of which the substance was immediately known to the crews, converted their suspicions into certainty—and they instantly broke out again. With this outburst began the second and distinctly criminal stage of the great mutiny. Hitherto the conduct of the men had been as innocent as the nature of the work they were doing permitted. Now they were about to illustrate the universal tendency of all revolt against authority to degenerate into sheer violence and rebellion.

This order was to be inserted in the general instructions between the clauses providing for the reading of the articles of war and for the rating of the ship’s company. Among other things, it directed the captain to “see that the arms and ammunition belonging to the marines be constantly kept in good order and fit for immediate service as well in harbour as at sea.” At the end was a general direction to officers to be ready “on the first appearance of mutiny to use the most vigorous means to suppress it, and to bring the ringleaders to punishment.” Hitherto the inspection of the marines’ arms had been left to the marine officer. That a change should be made at this moment was not unnaturally considered an ominous sign by the men. The purpose for which it was made was clear enough to crews which were from the very nature of the case in a state of “preternatural suspicion.” Neither the arrival of the order nor its purport could be wholly concealed, though the captains were as reserved as they possibly could be. Rumours leaked out in an exaggerated form, and had the very worst effects on the minds of the men, who were already angry at the apparent delay on the part of Parliament to vote the money required to make good the promises of the Admiralty. This delay was undoubtedly a mistake. Pitt, looking too exclusively to the dignity of the Government, had decided that it would be the more becoming course to grant the money by a silent vote. As a mere [366]matter of Parliamentary manners he was probably right; but it argued a certain want of imagination on his part that he did not realise the effect the silence of the House would produce on the sailors. The necessary forms of business might have made it impossible to bring the motion in sooner, but some notice might have been taken of the petition of the sailors to the Commons. Pitt decided otherwise, the Admiralty acted in its own injudicious way, and the mutiny broke out again at St. Helens just two days before Parliament voted the £372,000 required to provide for the increase of pay.

The disturbance began in the Duke, a three-decker, which had been the vessel immediately ahead of Rodney’s flagship in the line of battle in the great battle off Dominica in 1782. The crew forced their way into Captain Holloway’s cabin, and insisted on seeing the menacing Admiralty order. Holloway had destroyed it, foreseeing the effect it was likely to produce if made public. The crew were not to be stopped. They seized Holloway, and sent a message to the admiral demanding a copy of the order, with the threat that they would hang the captain or inflict “a degrading punishment”—in other words, flog him—if it was not produced. This was mutiny pure and simple, but Bridport was helpless, and the order was given up. Of course, it was instantly sent round the fleet to exasperate the prevailing ferment. This happened on the 5th or 6th of May. On the 7th, Bridport, having heard that the French fleet at Brest had dropped down to the outer harbour, hoisted the signal to proceed to sea. Thereupon the scene of the previous 15th April was repeated. The red flag was hoisted, ropes were reeved at the yardarm as a threat to “traitors” who should fail to support their fellow-members of the crews, and the officers were disarmed. The fleet was divided. The bulk of it was at St. Helens, while Admiral Colpoys, with his flagship, the London, and the Marlborough remained at Spithead. From the deck of the London the coming and going of the boats among the ships at St. Helens was distinctly visible. Judging rightly that the mutiny had broken out afresh, Colpoys decided to make a fight for his authority. He turned up his crew, and asked them whether they had any complaints to make. They [367]answered they had not. Whether Colpoys overrated the meaning of the answer or not, he certainly decided to fight. The men may only have meant that, unlike the crew of the Marlborough, who had particular grievances, they had no complaint to make of their officers. It did not follow that they were disposed to break away from the rest of the squadron. The question was soon put to the test. Boats were seen coming into Spithead from the ships at St. Helens. They could only be bringing the delegates on their way to demand the adhesion of the London. Colpoys at once paraded the marines on the quarter-deck, stationed sentries at the sally-ports, and gave orders that the boats were to be fired on if they insisted on coming alongside. Then he ordered the sailors below. Some obeyed, but it was noted as a bad sign that among those who went below were the three warrant-officers, the boatswain, the gunner, and the carpenter. A portion of the crew, including, as would appear, most of the real sailors, collected in a group forward, and stood there facing the admiral, who remained with his officers and the marines on the quarter-deck. The delegates came alongside, and were warned off by the sentries. They then appealed to the crew, and with effect, for the men in the forecastle began to stir, and some of them started to unlash one of the forward guns and train it on the quarter-deck. Bover, the first lieutenant of the London, threatened to fire if they did not desist. Some of the men were cowed, but one of them, made of stouter and more dangerous stuff, dared the lieutenant to fire. Bover took him at his word, fired, and shot him dead. If the crew had been really wavering and the marines steady, this act of vigour would probably have quelled the mutiny. But, in the spirit they were in, it had a directly contrary effect. The whole crew broke out at once. The men forward rushed aft; those below rushed on deck; the marines broke from their ranks and mingled with the sailors. As might be expected in such a scene, different accounts were given of what happened. There was certainly a fight, in which several of the mutineers, a midshipman, and the officer of marines were more or less severely wounded. As a matter of course, the officers were soon overpowered. It is extraordinary that no harm was done to Colpoys himself. He attributed his [368]escape to the fact that he faced the mutineers all through. They seem to have preserved some respect for him personally. According to one story, a mutineer who called him “a d——d b——y rascal” was silenced by his fellows with the threat of being thrown overboard; and another, who aimed a musket at him through a grating, had his weapon knocked out of his hands. But the men appeared determined to go to all lengths against Bover. He was dragged to the forecastle, and a rope prepared to hang him at the yard arm. The noose was actually round his neck, when Colpoys manfully came forward and declared that the lieutenant had acted by his orders. It shows how strong the tradition of discipline was among the crews still, that this was accepted as a justification. One of the topmen is also said to have appealed to the mutineers to spare Bover because “he was a brave boy.” The admiral and the topman contrived between them to save his life. Of course the London now joined the other ships, and the Marlborough with her. Colpoys and Bover were, after some discussion whether they should not be tried on board, sent on shore for trial. The coroner’s jury which sat on the mutineer found a verdict of justifiable homicide. The wounded midshipman and marine officer were carried to Haslar, but the sick and wounded seamen in the hospital showed such a savage determination to do them a damage that the authorities found it necessary to transfer them to a private house.

This second phase of the mutiny lasted from the 7th to the 15th of May, and was in all ways worse than the first. Many of the officers were set on shore by the men, and among them, Admiral Alan Gardner, who had, idly enough, drawn his sword on the delegates in the cabin of the Queen Charlotte during the first stage of the mutiny. It is said that when told that a cutter was manned to take him on shore, he replied that he should at least be allowed his barge, and that the barge was allowed him. When the news of the mutiny reached London, the Admiralty had recourse to the officer to whom it might well have appealed at the beginning. It sent Howe down on the 10th with the Act just passed by Parliament for the increase of pay, and the king’s pardon. It was the admiral’s last piece of service, and a more disagreeable [369]one could hardly have been found, for he had in fact to notify the surrender of Government to the mutineers. It was a duty, however, which he could not possibly refuse, for there were no means of coercing the men, and they would apparently not be convinced that no deceit was intended except on the word of “Black Dick.” Howe did the work in his usual solid way. He met the delegates on board the Queen Charlotte, and persuaded them to promise that the fleet should return to duty. The promise was kept. The squadron went to sea at once, and there was an end of what is commonly called the mutiny at Spithead, but was in fact the double mutiny at Spithead and St. Helens. If the disorder had ended here, the movement would have stood altogether alone among military seditions. Certainly no body of mutinous men was ever provoked by more genuine grievances, and none ever behaved with greater moderation on the whole. But it was not in the nature of things that it could stop here. The men had tasted the pleasure of defying authority, which is of itself corrupting. During the second outbreak they objected by name to over a hundred officers of all ranks from Colpoys down to two masters-at-arms. All these officers were left on shore when the squadron put to sea. The Admiralty did not try them, and it did keep them on full pay; but it did not restore them to their ships. This was, of course, a very bad example, and could only serve to convince all crews that they could get rid of any officer they pleased. If the prime seamen had preserved their influence throughout the fleet, the agitation might have died quietly. But these men soon made the discovery commonly made by any class which has headed a revolt against one above. It had set an example to those below. In the Channel, where the quality of the crews appears to have been above the average, there was no more open disorder, though the mutinous feeling continued to require watching. On other stations, where the quota-men and the convict element were more fully represented, the example set at Spithead was followed, and this time the leaders were seditious agitators of the stamp of Parker and Bott.

The end of the mutiny at St. Helens overlapped the beginning of the mutiny at the Nore. This more criminal [370]movement began on the 12th May, three days before Howe received the submission of the delegates of the Channel fleet. At that date the North Sea squadron was at sea, under command of Admiral Duncan, watching the coast of Holland. There were at the Little Nore some half-score frigates and small vessels, together with two 64-gun ships—the Inflexible, commanded by Captain Ferris, and the Director, commanded by Captain Bligh. This was the Bligh of the Bounty, he who was afterwards deposed from his governorship of New South Wales by Major Johnston of the 102nd Foot. It would have been strange if there had been mutiny to the fore, and he not there. The flagship of Buckner, the Port-Admiral, was the Sandwich, 90, which was not armed for sea-service, having only her upper-deck guns on board. She was, however, full of men, and of prime seamen. For fear that they would desert, these men were not allowed on shore. Buckner, who wished to preserve them for Duncan, would not even give them to the frigate captains who applied for some of them by name to fill the petty officers’ berths. We can understand that there was much sulky indignation among them, and that the news of the outbreak at Spithead, which filtered in, set up some ferment on the flagship’s lower deck. There was a man on board her who was admirably fitted, by training and character, to turn discontent into mutiny. In France, as it had been four years earlier, this man would probably have played a considerable part. By us he is only remembered as Richard Parker the Mutineer, who ended his life at the yardarm of the Sandwich. He was the son of a tradesman at Exeter, and he began life in the position of a gentleman, as midshipman on board the Culloden in 1786. He was discharged from her, and then from the Leander, for immoral conduct, and for setting a bad example to his messmates. In 1793, when he had finished his time as midshipman and was rated mate, he was broken by court martial for insubordination, was sent before the mast, and thence invalided into hospital. For a space he disappeared. When he reappeared, he was in prison for debt at Edinburgh. He had married, and had attempted the trade of schoolmaster. To escape from prison, he took the bounty, and came into the navy again as quota-man from Perth. He had only been drafted to the [371]Sandwich six weeks before the mutiny broke out. This is not unlike the early career of many heroes of the French Revolution. Whether Parker belonged to one of our native revolutionary societies of the time is not certain. It was afterwards asserted that he did, and was sent on board as being, from his training, a likely person to foment a mutiny. This, however, is so much the kind of story which would be told that it cannot be accepted as evidence. On the other hand, it is not intrinsically improbable. He himself had the grace to “die game,” and without betraying his associates on shore, if he had any. All we can be sure of is, that he was very much the stamp of man who did belong to Jacobin societies, and that his training had qualified him admirably for the part he played. On board the ships at the Nore he had to his hand plenty of the kind of material which the demagogue loves. The London police had been in the habit of sending its criminals on board for some time, and among them undoubtedly were members of the Corresponding Society and United Irishmen. Men of a better stamp felt the common grievances, and there was a feeling among them—very wrong-headed, but not wholly base—that it would be mean in them not to back up their fellow-seamen at Spithead.

That Parker had been active in fomenting the mutiny is clear from the fact that he appears as leader from the very beginning. It broke out on the Sandwich while most of the captains were on board the Inflexible, attending a court martial on a Captain Savage. As had been the case at Spithead, no violence was done to the officers. In the course of the day an incident happened which showed the difference of the two movements. The San Fiorenzo frigate arrived from Portsmouth. The mutineers cheered her as she came in, believing perhaps that she came to ask her help for the Channel fleet. But the San Fiorenzo was a loyal ship. Her captain, Sir Harry Burrard Neale, seeing from the look of the ships at the Little Nore that something must be wrong, gave orders that the cheers should not be answered. This was a bad sign for the mutineer leaders, and in the course of the day they learnt that the crew of the Clyde frigate, commanded by Captain Cunningham, was also loyal and would obey their officers. This was a warning to Parker and his [372]associates of the dangerous nature of the game they were playing. Their one chance of success was the unanimity of the fleet; but they had gone too far to go back now. It was decided to coerce the recalcitrant ships. On the 13th the Inflexible ranged up alongside the San Fiorenzo, and threatened to fire into her if the crew did not cheer. With the consent of Captain Neale, the sign of adhesion was given. It is one of the comic incidents of the mutiny that, when the men took the command from Captain Ferris, they rated him midshipman to show that there was no ill-feeling. A similar course was taken with the Clyde. But though these ships were forced to appear to join, and to accompany the mutineers when they went out from the Little Nore to the Nore, they remained loyal to their officers. The men of the Clyde did so far show themselves mutinous as to insist on getting rid of the doctor and the sergeant of marines. The latter was, perhaps, a bully, and the medical department was, as we have said before, exceptionally and intensely unpopular among the men. Cunningham would have stood by his officer; but the doctor became frightened, and begged to be allowed to go. The sergeant of marines was discharged regularly to save appearances, and replaced by a man appointed in the ordinary way. The conduct of the men of the Clyde and the San Fiorenzo is worth noting, because it shows what it was that finally brought about the ruin of the mutineers. This fleet was not unanimous. These two vessels were forced into the mutiny against their will, and on board all the other vessels there was a loyal minority. The daily proceedings on board were not noted with detail on the logs, for good reasons; but it is known that on several vessels there were officers who defied the mutineers all through and withstood Parker to his face; yet they were protected from outrage by a minority of the men.

There were two stages in the mutiny at the Nore. The first lasted from the 15th to the 31st of May. During this period the only ships engaged were those already mentioned. On the 31st vessels began to drop in from the North Sea, and they continued to come till the 6th June. These were the ships which aroused the intense indignation of the whole country by first deserting their admiral in the presence of the enemy in the Texel, and then attempting to blockade the [373]Thames. During the first fortnight the mutinous ships moved out to the Nore, dragging the reluctant Clyde and San Fiorenzo with them. The red flag was hoisted, and Admiral Buckner’s flag was hauled down. Day after day Parker with his committee of delegates and a mob of mutineers several hundred strong landed at Chatham and paraded the streets with red banners. Buckner was helpless. The only garrison in the town was a handful of invalids, and they, it was noted, began, “when elevated with drink,” to express the intention to appoint delegates of their own and to demonstrate for themselves. Parker was abundantly insolent to Buckner personally, but, on the whole, there was no great violence shown. A committee from the fleet visited the hospital, and used such strong language that the assistant-surgeon, a certain Mr. Safferay, committed suicide in a fit of terror by shooting himself. The boatswain of the Proserpine, who had made himself hateful to the men, was seized and dragged off to the Sandwich to be hanged. But he pleaded the orders of his superiors, and, strange to say, the excuse was accepted, as it had been in the case of Lieutenant Bover. The mutineers did not, however, let the boatswain off altogether. They paraded him round the fleet with two large swabs tied to his shoulders and a rope round his neck, while a boatful of drummer boys beat the rogue’s march. There was as yet more vacant horseplay and noise than violence among the mutineers. So little did the crews appear to be in earnest that they allowed eight days to pass before they presented their list of demands. When it was handed in, it was found to begin with a superfluous demand that, whatever had been given to ships at Spithead should be given to those at the Nore, and then to contain a demand that a ship’s company should have a right to object to an officer, and that the articles of war should be revised. It was now becoming clear that there must be no paltering with this mutiny. Lord Spencer, the First Lord, with his colleagues, Lord Allan and Admiral Young, came down to Chatham with an offer of pardon to those who would return to duty at once, but resolved to direct resolute measures against the disorderly ships. The militia was called out, and steps taken to put Chatham in a state of defence. An attempt to bring the [374]men to reason quietly was made on the 28th May, when the king’s proclamation of pardon was read on all the ships. It was not without effect. On the Brilliant, at least, the mutinous party only kept the upper hand with difficulty. Throughout the fleet the loyal minority was encouraged, and some of the mutineers shaken. Parker did not improve his popularity by causing one of the sailors of the Brilliant to be ducked for speaking disrespectfully of the delegates. Still the mutineers kept possession of the squadron. The first serious blow was given them by the escape of the Clyde and the San Fiorenzo. Cunningham and Neale decided to make a push for freedom, and would have done it sooner if they had not had hopes of bringing off the Director. Cunningham was sure of his own men, who had refused to put him on shore, though Parker came with the demand himself, and had stood at quarters all through the night of the 28th with the guns cast loose, expecting every moment to be fired into. On the 29th, Cunningham took an opportunity while the ships were swinging in the tide, so that he was not actually under the guns of a mutinous ship. He cut his cables and made a dash for Sheerness. The mutineers fired on him as soon as their guns would bear, but he escaped serious damage, and after tacking twice, contrived to turn into safe anchorage under the guns of the forts. Sir Harry Neale was less lucky. A pilot, who had been smuggled on board the San Fiorenzo through the mutineers’ guard-boats, cut his cable too soon, and she cast the wrong way. There was nothing for it but to run through the mutinous ships, which Sir Harry did successfully, though fired into right and left. The San Fiorenzo was carried over to the coast of Essex, and thence to Portsmouth. On her way out she sighted the first of the ships which had deserted Duncan standing into the Thames with the red flag flying. Neale kept the red flag up himself as long as he was in any danger, and then went on to Spithead, where he arrived not only safely, but with a French privateer, which he picked up on his way down.

The desertion of Duncan by his squadron was the culmination of the great mutiny. It was also the event which proved to the country and to the better stamp of men throughout the fleet what the consequences of insubordination [375]inevitably are. None were made more indignant by it than the crews in the Channel, who refused to have any dealings with Parker, and even volunteered to assist in reducing the mutineers to order. News travelled slowly in those times, and it is probable that the crews in the North Sea had only a very vague notion of what had been the end of the Spithead outbreak; but they did know that there was a Dutch force in the Texel getting ready for an invasion of England, and they did their best to leave it an open road. As might be expected, the conduct of these men was throughout wanting in the moderation shown at Spithead. Among the demands which they made was one that in future a common sailor should be a member of every court martial by which a foremast man was tried. The revolutionary flavour of that demand was beyond dispute. When the ships actually reached the Nore, some of their crews not only committed acts of savage violence on officers, but were guilty of downright piracy.

The trouble in Duncan’s ships began in Yarmouth Roads on the 27th of May, the day before the Clyde cut her cable and ran for Sheerness. On that day the crew of the Venerable, 74, the flagship, who are said to have been instigated by Parker, and who must in any case have known what was happening at the Nore, ran into the rigging and began cheering in a disorderly manner. They had to deal with a body of officers who were not to be trifled with. Duncan called the marines under arms, and sent his officers among the men with orders to bring them down. The order was obeyed, and the men mustered in the waist. Then the admiral gave them a little address, the point of which was that he would go all lengths before he would allow the command of the ship to be taken out of his hands. When one of the men cried out that this was precisely what they meant to do, the admiral drew sword on him, and would have cut him down if his arm had not been held by the chaplain. Then he ordered all who meant to stand by their officers to go over to the starboard side, and was instantly obeyed by all the crew except six. These six were at once put in irons in the wardroom. They were, obviously, entirely surprised by the turn their adventure had taken, and sent a humble [376]message begging for pardon. Duncan, with what would have been weakness in another man, forgave them. It was not credible that the crew of the Venerable was the only one infected by the mutinous spirit, and the admiral called on his captains to report whether they had seen any sign of disaffection among their men. With the single exception of Captain Hotham, of the Adamant, 50, they replied that they had seen none. Duncan went on board the Adamant and mustered the crew. There was a repetition of the scene on the Venerable’s deck; one of the crew of the Adamant told the admiral that they meant to dispute his authority. Duncan was, as his pictures remain to prove, a man of great height, and his physical strength was immense. He seized the impudent fellow, and swung him over the side of the ship. Then, holding him suspended by one hand, he asked the crew to look at this fellow who dared to dispute his authority. The Adamants cheered with delight, and no more was heard of their discontent. For a moment it appeared as if the admiral’s personal influence would keep his whole squadron steady; but the appearance was delusive. On the 29th May he ordered his ships to sea, and they stood out; but no sooner were they clear of the shoals off Yarmouth than all of them which had been declared to be trustworthy deserted him, leaving him only his own flagship and the Adamant, on which he had already faced and disarmed the mutiny. Duncan’s further conduct is famous in our naval history. He took the Venerable and the Adamant over to the Texel. There he remained through the summer, announcing his intention to fight the Dutch if they came out, and go down with the flag flying. As he had his two crews now well in hand, it is credible that, if the enemy had put to sea, our naval history would have included another last fight of the Revenge.

The rest of the squadron now went off in detachments to the Nore, to the number of ten or a dozen line-of-battle ships and frigates. On board some of them, at least, disgraceful weakness was shown by the officers. No one, perhaps, has the right to sneer at the commander who quails before unanimous and violent mutiny, unless he has himself faced that most dreadful of military dangers. But there is no [377]excuse for an officer who shrinks from doing his duty when a part of his command is ready and even eager to support him. According to Brenton, who was then one of his lieutenants, Captain Fancourt, of the Agamemnon, was guilty of this weakness. He yielded to his crew at once, and not only so, but when he was told by some of the petty officers, who sent the message through Brenton, that, if he would order the marines to act, a large part of the sailors would stand by him, he deliberately refused, on the ground that there would be a fight, and that he could not bear to see his poor men “writhing on the deck.” As was only natural, no captain in the squadron was treated with more absolute contempt by the mutineers than Fancourt. By the 6th of June the North Sea ships had assembled at the Nore. Their arrival revived the spirit of Parker and his associates, which had been greatly shaken by the escape of the Clyde and the San Fiorenzo, and then further damped by the subsequent escape of the Serapis and the Discovery, armed transports, which succeeded in following the example set by the frigates. The news, too, from the shore was very bad; but the leaders still hoped to cow the country. A blockade of the river was ordered, and the trade stopped. Parker still professed great loyalty. The feasts on the Restoration Day, 29th of May, and the King’s Birthday, the 4th of June, were observed with all the usual forms. On the 4th of June, Parker sent on shore for the chaplain of the Sandwich to preach the Birthday sermon. The chaplain, whose name was Hatherall, came, and he had the courage to choose for his text Job xxvii. 5—“God forbid that I should justify you; till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me”—and to preach a loyal sermon on it. To the credit of the men, he was allowed to land unhurt. Other incidents of these days were not equally creditable. The surgeon of one ship was tarred and feathered. Brenton, who does not give the names, says that this man had been drunk in his cabin for five weeks, and he half excuses the act as one of “wild justice.” On the Monmouth, whose captain, Lord Northesk, afterwards third in command at Trafalgar, disliked the use of the cat, the men flogged the second master, two masters’ mates, a midshipman, and a sergeant of marines. They then shaved their heads, and turned them ashore. [378]Parties landed from the ships and plundered the farmhouses. Trading vessels were overhauled and pillaged. In fact, the fleet was rapidly drifting into mere piracy. Meanwhile the anger on shore was growing daily. Troops and volunteers poured into Sheerness. The forts at the mouth of the Thames were supplied with furnaces for heating shot. Some vessels in the Long Reach were manned and got ready for service. The whole body of merchant seamen, who were threatened by the blockade of the Thames, were eager to serve against the mutineers. On the 6th of June Parliament passed the Act for preventing the seduction of sailors or soldiers, which made all communication with the mutineers an indictable offence.

This Act really broke the backbone of the mutiny. It showed the men that the country was not to be cowed. The timid or more moderate were frightened, and those who had committed themselves too far began to clamour for desperate courses. Parker talked of taking the ships over to Holland, and surrendering them to the enemy. Whether, even if he had induced the squadron to follow him, he could have got off is very doubtful. Lord Keith, who had arrived a few days before to take command of the naval operations against the mutineers, had removed the beacons and buoys from the Swin and other shallows at the mouth of the Thames, for the express purpose of cutting off their retreat. Without pilots, whom they could not obtain, they could hardly have got the ships out. But there was no inclination on the part of the men to follow Parker they knew not where. He himself obviously felt that the game was going against him, but an air of defiance was kept up painfully enough. Lord Northesk was “ordered” on shore with a statement of grievances to be given to the king. On the 7th the effigies of “Billy Pitt” and “Dundas” were hung at the yardarm. Parker went round the fleet reading extracts from what he called the king’s “foolish” proclamation, with seditious comments; but on board the Ardent, 74, he was openly rebuked by a Lieutenant Wardour for garbling it, and enough men stood by the officer to save him from retaliation. In fact, the dislike of all Englishmen for an upstart was beginning to tell against the mutineer leader. He was openly jeered at as a “pretty [379]admiral of the fleet.” It does not appear that Parker ever called himself by this title, and the story that he proclaimed a “floating republic” is a myth; but he did exercise authority, and it soon became offensive. On the 10th June the first-fruits of the combined disgust, fear, and repentance of the men was seen in the escape of the Leopard. The captain had been landed, but one lieutenant at least remained on board, with some subordinate officers. This officer, whose name was Robb, learnt that he would find support if he attempted to retake the ship. During the night of the 9th June, he, with the help of some masters, mates, and midshipmen, trained two of the wardroom guns forward and loaded them with grape-shot. Next morning, when the tide was flowing, and therefore able to carry the ship up the river, he threw open the door and unmasked his battery. Then, leaving trusty men by the guns with orders to sweep the deck, if necessary, he rushed out and ordered the mutineers to surrender. There was a fight, but in the end Robb and his fellow-officers contrived to cut the cable, to get enough sail set to give the Leopard steerage way, and to carry her off, fighting fiercely all the time with those of the mutineers who refused to submit. He brought her up the Thames with the remnant of the mutineers under hatches. The Repulse, 64, followed. Her crew spontaneously replaced the officers in command. She ran on the Nore Sand and lay under the fire of the mutineers for an hour and a half, but was at last got off, and carried into Sheerness. From that moment till the final surrender of the Sandwich, one vessel after another either cut and ran, or merely hauled down the red flag and hoisted the blue—which the sailors called the “signal of agreeableness.” On board the Standard the leader of the mutineers, whose name, “strangely enough,” says Captain Cunningham, was William Wallace, shot himself when he saw the game was up. A few of the more desperate men seized a smack and fled across the North Sea. They ran her ashore on the coast of Holland. Parker himself, whether from irresolution or from what in a better man one might call magnanimity, did not attempt to escape. He was surrendered by his messmates of the Sandwich, and, as we have said, met his death at the fore-yardarm like a man, having written the proper sort of letter [380]to his wife, expressed due contrition for his offences, and asked, as the leader of an unsuccessful rebellion should, that his life might be accepted as sufficient sacrifice. If it was all, or even partly, affectation, at least it was the affectation of a man who knew the becoming thing to do. There were in all eighteen mutineers executed, of whom four were marines. The total number of men condemned to death was nearly forty; but the Government was not disposed to be more severe than it could help. When Duncan, at the head of a fleet consisting almost wholly of ships which had been in the mutiny, gained the battle of Camperdown, the king was advised to publish a general pardon. It was long before the discipline of the navy wholly recovered the shock it had received; but the great mutiny was over, and the State could afford to be generous without fear that its generosity would be mistaken for weakness.

The grievances of the men being universal, the conditions which led to insubordination were found everywhere more or less. As the Government in its dire need of men had gone so far as to send such known rebels as United Irishmen into the crews of some of its ships—particularly into those which had their headquarters at Beerhaven and to some of the vessels with Jervis—there was no lack of agitators ready to profit by the unrest of their comrades. Something, too, must be allowed for the force of example. Men mutinied on one station when they heard of a mutiny elsewhere. It was the report from Spithead which started the outbreak at the Nore. It was the arrival of the Alcmene frigate from the Nore which set going the ferment in Jervis’s squadron. The fatal result of all successful insubordination is that it sets the worser kind of man arguing that, if so much has been extorted already, more can be obtained by the same method. Therefore spasmodic outbreaks continued for a time to occur at home and abroad as the fire spread. Some were of little importance, and may be briefly dismissed. Among them was the insubordination at Plymouth which followed the mutiny at the Nore. Lord Keith had been sent there from Sheerness when the last of Parker’s followers surrendered. He was to hoist his flag in the Queen Charlotte as second in command of the Channel fleet. The outbreak was a comparatively [381]slight one, and Keith quelled it by firmness and tact. In October, so soon as the news began to arrive from home, a very serious mutiny took place among the ships at the Cape. This was suppressed mainly by the firmness of the governor, Lord Macartney, and of Dundas, the general in command. They threatened to sink the ships, which were few in number and were lying under the guns of the forts. To this threat the men surrendered. Several of the more active leaders were hanged or flogged.

The most dangerous and the best known aftermath of the great convulsion at home was the so-called mutiny off Cadiz. The movement never went beyond partial disorder and treasonable threats in individual ships. Still, in view of Duncan’s experience at Yarmouth, it would be rash to assert that if firmness and promptitude had not been shown, a part at least of the Mediterranean fleet would not have broken away. It does not appear that Jervis had cause to distrust the ships which had fought under him on the 14th February, but as the summer wore on the Government began to reinforce him. Not unnaturally, it selected for this service such ships as it preferred to employ at a distance—namely, those which had been conspicuous in the Spithead mutiny, or had been noted for bad conduct in the squadron serving under Curtis on the coast of Ireland. These ships were swarming with United Irishmen, who formed a large proportion of the eleven to twelve thousand Irish in the fleet. In Jervis’s own squadron the marines had been largely recruited among Erse-speaking Irishmen. The admiral was early informed of what had happened in the Channel, and took his measures with vigour. All visiting from ship to ship was stopped, even the captains being forbidden to ask one another to dinner. The marines were quartered apart from the sailors, and the speaking of Irish was forbidden. Jervis took the wise and bold course. He made no attempt to conceal the news of the mutiny at home from his men. When the letter-bags were found to contain circulars, written in a fair hand, inciting the crews to mutiny, he ordered them to be delivered. He trusted to his own vigilance and to the wholesome effects of occupation. The bombardments of Cadiz were at least partly undertaken to keep the men busy. Being a man of judgment, [382]he looked to it carefully that his men were well fed. He spared no pains to procure fresh food and vegetables from Morocco, so that his squadron was better provisioned and was in better health than many ships had been in home ports. Under an admiral of this stamp mutiny had the least possible chance of coming to a head. Resolute officers knew they would be supported, and the crews were saved from the exasperation provoked by unfair treatment and unwholesome food. Therefore Jervis never had to deal with a general outbreak, as Bridport had at Spithead, but only with the rebellious element represented by the United Irishmen, or rascals of the stamp of Bott of the Princess Royal, an agent of the Corresponding Society. A little firmness was enough to dispose of them. How completely this was the case was shown by the fact that Maitland of the Kingfisher (afterwards Maitland of the Bellerophon) suppressed disorder in his vessel by running the first man who was mutinous to him through the heart, and Captain Pearce of the St. George, with the help of his first lieutenant, Halley, was able to seize and put in irons two agitators who were rash enough to defy his authority. They were tried, condemned to death, and hanged next day. The admiral’s determination and his power to keep order were never doubted in his squadron. Among the vessels sent from the Channel was the London, the vessel in which Lieutenant Bover had shot the mutineer. Bover had returned to his post, and it does not appear that the crew bore him any grudge. When the London came into the Tagus, her captain, Purvis, went in his barge to report to the admiral. While he was in the flagship, the Ville de Paris, one of his barge’s crew, seeing a sailor looking out of a lower-deck port, sang out to him, “I say there, what have you fellows been doing while we have been fighting for your beef and pork?” The sailor of the Ville de Paris gave him this friendly warning: “If you’ll take my advice, you’ll say just nothing at all about all that here, for by G——d if old Jarvie hears ye, he’ll have you dingle dangle at the yardarm at eight o’clock to-morrow morning.” The crisis of the disorder was the so-called mutiny of the Marlborough. This vessel had come out from England, where an outbreak quelled with some difficulty had taken place in her. A court martial was held on the principal mutineers, [383]and one of them was condemned to death. Jervis, who had a keen sense of the value of an imposing spectacle, determined to make an example. He gave orders that the execution should be carried out next morning, although it was a Sunday, and by the crew of the Marlborough—not, as was the custom, by a boat’s crew from another ship. Captain Ellison, of the Marlborough, an old officer who had lost an arm in action, went to the flagship to protest, and was received by Jervis very theatrically on the quarter-deck of the Ville de Paris, in the presence of all her officers. Jervis refused either to postpone the execution or to allow it to be performed in the usual way. With a brutal ostentation of authority, not unusual with him, he insulted Ellison by asking him if he was afraid, by threatening to send an officer to supersede him, and by jeering at his age. Ellison was compelled to endure the insolence of the admiral. He returned to the Marlborough, and next morning the execution took place in sight of all the fleet. A large force of armed boats was sent under Captain Campbell of the Blenheim with orders to lie alongside the Marlborough and fire into her if any disorder took place on board. The mutineer was brought to the cathead, and the rope was put round his neck. At eight o’clock the signal gun was fired from the flagship, and the man was swung off. By some horrible piece of neglect the tackle had been so badly fitted that it would not work properly, and the man had to be lowered. For a moment it was thought that the crew had broken into mutiny, and Campbell brought his boats nearer. But the defect was quickly put right, and the execution was completed. Then Jervis, who had been watching the scene from his flagship, said, “Discipline is preserved, sir.”

No account of the year of mutiny would be complete without at least some record of the story of the Hermione frigate. It was a case in which a badly constituted crew was driven frantic by a captain of manifestly inhuman violence and brutality. The mutiny occurred in September in the West Indies. Pigot, the captain, was an officer of no mark. He seems to have been one of those men in whom the exercise of authority and seclusion from the check of criticism by equals permit the development of moral putrefaction. It is difficult to write on that subject without touching on things which are [384]tacenda. There was in the sea life of long confinement to the ship and long solitary cruises an underworld of the brutal lust generated among segregated men. The power to torture by flogging bred the foul love of inflicting torture which is never far from lust. It is a stock, and as it seems, a true story that Pigot, growing more and more frantic in cruelty, ended by threatening to flog the last men off the yards when the sails were handled. Two fell in their hurry to come down, and were killed by their fall on the deck. Pigot ordered the bodies of “the lubbers” to be thrown overboard. That night “hell broke loose” in the Hermione. The crew rose in revolt. Pigot was beaten down in his cabin and hurled overboard, all the commissioned officers were butchered—some of them while piteously appealing for mercy for the sake of their wives and children. The gunner, the carpenter, and one midshipman only were spared. It is recorded that the boatswain was given over to be tortured by the ship’s boys, and that they killed him slowly by scraping his flesh from his bones with dumbscrapers. Then the mutineers took the ship into La Guayra, and handed her over to the Spaniards.

It has been counted a signal example of the good fortune of England that the French made no attempt to profit by the disorganisation of the fleet during all these months of 1797. Some ridicule has been directed in France against members of the Directory who thought interference would be injudicious, since it would only tend to reunite the English. Yet the Frenchmen who judged thus judged rightly. There was no general disloyalty to the State among the mutineers. If there had been, what could have prevented the mutineers from taking the ships to Brest, or the Texel? If they shrank from going over to the enemy, they could still have sailed to America, for they were provisioned for long blockades, and there were men among them who could navigate. In the United States they would have found a safe refuge in an English-speaking community. They rose only against grievances. They did not attain all they wished, but they obtained a part, and they shocked their rulers into beginning to improve the conditions of their service.



Authorities.—See Chapter XII., and La Jonquière Expedition d’Egypte.

The failure of Hoche, the defeat of the proposed combination with the Spaniards by the battle of St. Vincent, the shattering of the Dutch fleet at Camperdown, had proved that an invasion of the British Isles was a venture only to be achieved by such a combination of good fortune for the French, and bad management on our part, as no sane ruler of men could expect. Yet during eight years, including the short fallacious Peace of Amiens, the successive Governments of France, the Directory, the Consulate, and the Empire continued to make the attempt. All their efforts at sea and some of their enterprises on land were directed to that end. The expedition to Egypt in 1798 was as much a part of the invasion scheme as the raid of Humbert. It was meant to turn the flank of England by assailing her in India. The Northern Coalition of 1801 was but another plot to turn England’s flank—promoted by the French, and made possible by the help of her erratic ally, the Czar Paul. The Boulogne flotilla was to have made the direct attack. It was all one undivided story which ended in 1805—leaving behind it a heritage of madness in the shape of Napoleon’s maniacal determination to conquer England on the Continent—in other words, to make the independence and well-being of Europe incompatible with the existence of his own government. The army of England was not dissolved. It remained rather a paper than an effective force, but still in existence as a possibility and a threat. As if to emphasise their determination to strike at the heart of England, the Directory appointed Napoleon himself as general of the Army of England on the 26th October 1797. The nomination was little more than a formality. Napoleon did not even visit his command till [386]early in February 1798, and then only in passing and on his way to Belgium. The conqueror of Italy did not need his great sagacity to see that the venture was insane with such resources as the Directory could command. In the month of May their coast defence forces led by Muskeyn were beaten in an effort to retake the Marcouf islands, off La Hougue, where England had an advance post of observation held by bluejackets and marines. Napoleon, who knew well enough that the Directory feared him as a possible military despot, was no more disposed than Hoche to play Don Quixote on the sea to please men who would gladly have seen him at the bottom of it. He turned to the great flanking movement which was to destroy England through India, leaving lesser, and less fortunate, men to tilt at windmills.

The turning movement was essentially no less a delusion than the direct attack, but it looked feasible, it offered promising vistas of glory and adventure in the East, and it gave Napoleon a field wherein he might do showy things to fascinate the French imagination, and withal bide his time. It was indeed feasible up to a certain point, because the British Mediterranean fleet was tied down to blockade Cadiz. Jervis, content with heading off and driving back the Spaniards, had retired first to Lagos, and then to Lisbon, carrying with him his four prizes, the cherished reward of the toils and perils of officers and men, to be divided in becoming proportions. What those proportions were we can learn pleasantly from the estimate made by Nelson in a letter to Lord Spencer dated 7th September, of what the shares due for three French prizes he caused to be destroyed would have come to, if he had ordered their preservation:—to the commander-in-chief £3750; to the junior admirals each £1625; to captains each £1000; to the lieutenants class each £75; to warrant officers each £50; to petty officers each £11; to seamen and marines each £2, 4s. 1d. The men had their share to a penny, and we can understand the jest of the Irish sailor who was seen saying his prayers before Trafalgar. When asked by a lieutenant if he was afraid, he answered that he was not, but was only praying that the enemy’s bullets might be distributed on the same scale as the prize money—the lion’s share to the officers. St. Vincent, as he must now be called, [387]did not leave Lisbon till the 31st March, and then applied himself to watching the twenty-six or twenty-eight Spanish ships in the port and to that repression of the spirit of mutiny described in the previous chapter.

Cadiz was twice bombarded at night. On the 3rd and the 5th July some damage was done to shipping and to houses. Some conflicts took place with Spanish guard-boats and galleys, in one of which Nelson was in great peril. News came that a Spanish treasure-ship had taken refuge at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and on the 15th July Nelson was detached to seize it. He had with him his flagship the Theseus, 74, the Culloden, 74, the Zealous, 74, and the Leander, 50, with the Seahorse, Emerald, and Terpsichore, 32-gun frigates, and the cutter Fox. But he was not provided with the detachment of troops he thought necessary. Mainly for want of them, the attack failed disastrously. On the 22nd July an attempt was made to occupy a height overhanging the town, but the post was too strongly held to be carried by a mere landing party. On the evening of the 24th and in the small hours of the 25th, a double direct attack on the mole, and by the Citadel, was made with the Fox and boats. The Fox was sunk by cannon-shot off the mole, and so were some of the boats with her. Nelson lost his right arm. A few officers and men struggled on to the mole only to be shot down by musketry. The attack near the Citadel was no more fortunate. Troubridge, who commanded, succeeded in landing through the surf which stove his boats, but only to find he was helpless and to be compelled to purchase leave to return to the ships by promising that no further attack should be made on the islands. We lost in all 141 men and officers shot or drowned, and 105 wounded. Nelson was compelled to return home to months of suffering. From April 1797 to May 1798 the Mediterranean was unvisited by an English naval force, the French were free to cross it in every direction to fix their grip on the Ionian Islands, their share of the plunder of Venice, and to prepare for their great venture. Jervis, who spent much of his time at Lisbon, was joined by a Portuguese squadron, but the necessity for watching the Spaniards kept him to the west of the Straits.

Therefore did it seem feasible to the French to apply [388]themselves to the profitable task of turning the Mediterranean into “a French lake,” by seizing Egypt, and then to revenge themselves on England by making Egypt the starting place for an attack on India. Preparations were made all through the earlier part of the year, and the expedition might have sailed before it did if an alarm of renewed war with Austria had not turned the attention of the French Government to another direction. The English ministers knew that preparations were being made, but did not know for what particular purpose. It seemed not improbable, though it surely ought to have appeared unthinkable, that the fleet at Toulon was going to try to run past Jervis and make for Ireland, where rebellion had broken out. There were from thirty to forty French ships of the line at Brest and other ocean ports, and the Army of England was still in being, at least on paper. To go to see what was being done at Toulon was the obvious course.

Nelson returned from home to the fleet off Cadiz on the 29th April 1798. Lord Spencer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, guided by his own good sense and the advice of Sir Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto, had already selected him as the officer to be entrusted with the duty of intercepting the Toulon armament. His judgment coincided with the opinion of Jervis, who spontaneously detached Nelson on a reconnaissance into the Mediterranean on the 2nd May. Nelson sailed in his flagship, the Vanguard, 74, and on the 4th he picked up, at Gibraltar, the Alexander, 74, the Orion, 74, the Emerald and Terpsichore, and the Bonne Citoyenne sloop. On the 9th he sailed for Toulon. On the 19th St. Vincent received orders from home to send twelve line-of-battle ships into the Mediterranean to destroy the French armament, and he was recommended to give the command to Nelson. He was promised reinforcements to replace the ships he detached. They reached him on the 24th, under command of Sir R. Curtis, and that night the inshore squadron watching Cadiz, was replaced, under cover of the dark, by the newcomers, and was detached up the Mediterranean so that the Spaniards should see nothing to excite their suspicions and give them news to report to the French.

In the meantime Nelson had gone ahead and had been off [389]Cape Sicié on the 17th. He learnt from a captured privateer that a great armament was indeed in preparation, but could learn nothing of its destination. On the 21st the Vanguard was dismasted in a north-westerly gale, which had begun to blow on the 19th, and was compelled to anchor to refit at San Pietro in Sardinia. His ships had been seen at a distance by the French in Toulon, but they put to sea on the 19th by favour of the north-west wind which drove him off. The armament consisted of twelve sail of the line under Admiral Brueys d’Aigalliers, an officer of the old French royal corps. The warships were crowded with Napoleon’s troops, and accompanied by transports. The French warships as usual had been manned with difficulty, and were short-handed. Though three months’ provisions were carried for the soldiers, only two months’ were carried for the crews, a fact which had an influence on the movements of Brueys later on. Immediately after leaving Toulon the armament was joined by a convoy from Genoa on the 21st May. The north-westerly gale blew it on its course, and as it went down the eastern side of Corsica and Sardinia it was sheltered from the violence of the storm. On the 27th it was joined at the mouth of the Straits of Bonifacio by another convoy from Ajaccio, while a third from Civita Vecchia, followed a parallel course, and joined the main body off Malta on the 9th June. If the fleet of Jervis had not been tied down to watch Cadiz, it would have been easy to prevent the army for the invasion of Egypt from ever coming together. The possession of Malta, in the opinion of the French, who share the common belief of mankind that whoever holds a port commands the sea about it, would have gone far to forward their scheme for making the Mediterranean a French lake. The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, to which it belonged, had been nearly ruined by the loss of its estates in France during the Revolution, and was too poor to maintain troops. The French army took possession on the 13th June, and on the 18th sailed on its way to Egypt, leaving a garrison in the island.

While the French were profiting by the delay of the English to take early measures to intercept them, Nelson was refitting at San Pietro. On the 27th May, the day on which the Ajaccio Convoy joined Brueys and Napoleon, he [390]left San Pietro to resume his watch off Toulon. He was back on his cruising ground on the 31st to learn that the armament was gone to a destination he could not discover. On the 5th Captain Hardy, of the Mutine brig, brought him the news that Troubridge was coming with reinforcements, which would raise his command to fourteen sail. On the 7th they joined him. In a time when the movements of ships were controlled by the wind the seaman had certainties on which to calculate. Nelson knew that a fleet hampered by a swarm of transports could not have gone westward in the late north-westerly gale. Therefore he sought them on the east of Corsica and Sardinia. When off Gianute he was misinformed by a Moorish vessel, which told him that the French were at Syracuse. At Naples, on the 17th June—four days after the French had taken Malta—he learnt that the enemy had gone south past Sardinia. At Messina, on the 20th, he heard of the capture of Malta and Gozo. On the 22nd he was twelve leagues to the S.W. of Cape Passaro in Sicily, and was there told by a neutral, who had seen them at sea, that the French had left Malta on the 18th and were going to the east. Napoleon was as little a friend to delay as Nelson. He knew since the 1st June of the presence of English ships at San Pietro, and that he was liable to interruption. Knowing that he pressed on, but did not take the normal course from Malta to Alexandria. He followed a route to the north of it along the southern shore of Crete. When therefore Nelson, concluding most justly that the French would not go east except to attack Egypt, pressed on in pursuit along the shortest line, he crossed the route of his enemy, and they sailed in parallel lines. On the 25th, when the French were off Gozo di Candia, Nelson was directly to the south of them, barely sixty miles away, near Cape Dernah, in Africa. As he was not weighted by transports and was sailing on the more direct route he headed his opponent, and reached Alexandria on the 28th June to find the port empty, and the Turks wholly ignorant that they were menaced by any danger. He was in a fever of excitement. Of eager, vehement temperament, and by nature a striker of fierce strokes, he had overshot the mark, and his blow had been wasted in the air. His frigates had parted from him [391]in the gale which dismasted the Vanguard, and had not rejoined. He was groping for his foe in the dark, and had missed him. His mind was agitated by his imagination. He saw himself, in his first important command, chosen over the heads of his seniors to meet a great crisis, and it seemed as if he had failed. He already heard in fancy the howl of disappointment which would go up in England, worded with all the ruffian fluency of the newspapers; and he loved honour—he loved popularity. Agitation clouded his sagacity. He could not consider how probable it was that his unhampered squadron had passed the enemy, how unlikely it was that they were heading for any other point than Egypt, an old object of French ambition, a post from which India could be menaced. On the 29th he hurried away to the coast of Anatolia, from the place where British interests could be injured, to one where the French could have gone only in a fit of childish folly. Forty-eight hours after he had left, and when his topsails were hardly over the horizon to the north-east, the French were seen in the west, and the invasion of Egypt began.

It was allowed to go on for a month undisturbed, and Napoleon was at liberty to gain the victories which prepared the way for his rise to despotic power in France. Nelson, meanwhile, had reached the coast of Anatolia on the 4th July, had battled his way back against head winds to Cape Passaro by the 18th, had obtained water and stores at Syracuse by the connivance of the Neapolitan Government and in defiance of its treaty with France, and had gone to sea again by the 25th, still ignorant of the whereabouts of his enemies save that they were somewhere in the Levant. On the 28th the Turkish Pasha at Coron, in the Morea, told him that they had been seen four weeks before to the south of Crete, heading to the south-east. That they had gone to Egypt did not admit of a doubt. Nelson steered once more for Alexandria, and on the 1st August the Zealous signalled that the French were at anchor in Aboukir Bay to the west of the Rosetta mouth of the Nile.

Napoleon had preferred to keep the squadron on the coast to co-operate with his army, though he gave the admiral conditional leave to sail for Corfu, if he could not take his fleet [392]into the old harbour of Alexandria or find a safe anchorage elsewhere on the coast. Brueys could not leave for Corfu even if the general had been honest in giving him leave to go, for he was short of water and provisions, and most of what the shore could supply was taken for the army. To get into the old harbour was difficult. To get out of it in the face of a blockading force would have been impossible. A squadron once shut in it might be destroyed by bombs. So he sought for a safe anchorage and thought he found it at Aboukir, to the N.E. of Alexandria. Aboukir, the ancient Canopus, is the western point of the bay which lies west of the Rosetta branch of the Nile, and it has a shallow harbour stretching from N.W. to S.E. with an island at the N.W. point. Brueys, as an officer of the old royal corps, serving revolutionary France from necessity, disliked his captains as members of the class which had ruined and degraded his own. He thought them boors, and knew them to be ignorant. He had no confidence in his command, for his ships were all short-handed, and several lacked a fourth or even a third of their complement. The proportion of genuine seamen was small and the discipline bad. No practice could be given while the ships were crowded with soldiers and military stores. When the ships were cleared of the army there had been little time to drill the men, and little will on their part to be drilled, for the anarchical spirit of the Revolution was strong among them, and it was difficult to secure obedience. Therefore Brueys was justified in believing that his squadron was unequal to an encounter with an English force of approximately the same strength. His wisest course was to meet battle, if meet it he must, in conditions which would put the least possible strain on its weakness. The measures he took say little for the military intelligence of the famous royal corps. He might have placed his ships at the N.W. corner of the bay, close to the bank which lines the shore, and where the English could not place ships on both sides of his. He did anchor them so far from the bank that there was room for an enemy to pass between them and the land, and he arranged them in a very obtuse angle, with its apex pointing to the N.E. If an attack was made at either end, the other would not be able to support the part assailed. The history of war contains no more tragic example of a force weak [393]in itself and so handled that all the causes of defeat were heaped upon its weakness. And this was done in the face of an English squadron trained in a fine school of discipline, rendered confident by long success, perfected by practice in nerve and judgment, led by that man of all men who was best qualified to give its strength free play. One of the most idle of idle discussions has chattered round the imaginary problem whether the course of doubling on the head of the French line, actually adopted by the English fleet, was taken by Nelson’s order or inspired by the example of Captain Foley of the Goliath. It was perhaps the greatest of Nelson’s great qualities, his truest claim to be a consummate leader of men, that he lived in genial harmony with his subordinates, discussing all possible contingencies with them, laying down the principles, and leaving to every man the inspiring freedom to co-operate within the just bounds of his duty, to act as circumstances served in the spirit of his orders, as a free man, and not as one bound to follow the letter like a mere instrument. Whether the French line would be doubled on must depend on its position at the moment of battle. The advantage of doubling and putting an opponent between two fires had been obvious to average human intelligence from of old. On a previous page of this book it has been shown how Tourville did it at the battle of Beachy Head. The manœuvre, like all the work of man, fell short of perfection. There was a risk that when two ships were firing into a third placed between them they would fire into one another. It was a risk which weighed with good officers, notably with Captain Saumarez of the Orion. He thought that, given the superiority of our gunnery, we developed a superior force whenever an English ship came into action with a French ship of the same rate or one not greatly superior in armament. It is possible that part of the loss suffered by the English squadron was inflicted by English hands. It is a not incredible might-have-been, that if our ships had stretched along the outside of the French line, each anchoring as she came up and covering the passage of the comrade behind, we might have reached their rear ships before they got away, and so have taken them all. But the advantages of the course followed were palpable. It was certain that the French ships, attacked on both sides, would be rapidly crushed, [394]for their insufficient crews were overtaxed when compelled to fight both broadsides. The nominal strength of the crews of the French ships was 11,000 men. Their actual force was 7850. Twenty-five men per ship were absent guarding the watering place on shore, and many were away in the boats engaged in bringing off water when the English appeared.

They had sighted the coast of Egypt about Alexandria on the morning of the 1st August. The Alexander, 74, Captain Ball, and Swiftsure, 74, Captain Hallowell, were sent in to reconnoitre, and reported at 10 a.m. that they saw the harbour full of vessels, but that the French squadron was not there. At 1 p.m. the Zealous, 74, Captain Samuel Hood, signalled that the enemy was at anchor in Aboukir. The Swiftsure and Alexander were recalled, and the squadron headed for the enemy. By about 5.30 it was to the north of Aboukir Island, which, from the battle of the night, was to receive the name of Nelson Island. The Mediterranean charts of the time were generally untrustworthy, and seamen had to rely on their own observation to learn the depths of water. Nelson hailed the Zealous to ask of Captain Hood if he thought the ships could turn with the security that they would clear the shoal. Hood replied that he did not know, but would stand in and try. The orders were to attack the enemy’s van and centre, and to anchor. It was at six o’clock that the order was given to stand in, and the squadron which had come from the west turned to the south to throw itself on the French van. At that moment eleven ship were in line. The Goliath, 74, Captain Foley; Zealous, 74, Captain Samuel Hood; Orion, 74, Captain Sir James Saumarez; Audacious, 74, Captain Davidge Gould; Theseus, 74, Captain Miller; Vanguard, 74, Nelson’s flagship, of which Edward Berry was captain; Minotaur, 74, Captain Louis; Defence, 74, Captain Peyton; Bellerophon, 74, Captain Darby; Majestic, 74, Captain Westcott; and the Leander, 50, Captain Thompson. The Culloden, 74, Captain Troubridge, always an unlucky ship, was outsailed and was behind, and the Alexander and Swiftsure were still further off.

The French squadron consisted of thirteen vessels and was anchored as follows:—The Guerrier, 74, a very old ship, [395]Captain Trullet, was at the head, and lay nearly two miles to the south-east of Aboukir island. Behind her and stretching to the south-east lay the Conquerant, 74, Captain Dalbarade, a vessel so rotten with age that her armament had been reduced, and manned by a crew of only four hundred. The Spartiate, 74, Captain Eimeriau; the Aquilon, 74, Captain Thevenard; and the Peuple Souverain, 74, Captain Raccord, which was as much worn out as the Conquerant. The Franklin, 80, Captain Gillet, the flagship of Rear-Admiral Blanquet Duchayla, and the Orient, 110, the flagship of Admiral Brueys, whose flag-captain was Casabianca, and who had with him Ganteaume as captain of the fleet. The line turned to the south beyond the Orient, and consisted of the Tonnant, 80, Captain Dupetit Thouard; the Heureux, 74, Captain Etienne; the Mercure, 74, Captain Cambon; the Guillaume Tell, 80, flagship of Rear-Admiral Villeneuve, whose flag-captain was Saunier; the Généreux, 74, Captain Lejoille; and the Timoléon, 74, Captain Léonce Trullet. Four frigates of forty guns were anchored inside the line, and one of them carried the flag of Rear-Admiral Decrès. When Nelson was sighted by the French at 2 p.m. a hasty council of war was held in the Orient. There was discussion what ought to be done, though lack of means and of time forbade the doing of anything save one thing—that was to lie and wait for the English attack in the hope that it would not be made till next morning, and with the expectation that it would not be made on the van, though that, as being the windward end of the squadron, was precisely the point at which attack would be most effective, and least liable to interruption by the French ships to leeward.

The attack was made that night, and was made on the van. At six o’clock, just as the sun was touching the horizon, the Goliath crossed the bow of the Guerrier, pouring in her fire with such effect that the Frenchman’s foremast came down. The men on the deck of the Goliath, who could see that they had drawn the first blood, cheered the happy omen, and the cheer was taken up by the crews at the guns below. The Goliath was to have been anchored with a spring at her cable, abreast of the Guerrier, but the anchor did not hold, and she was brought up abreast of the Conquerant. [396]The Zealous followed in her wake and took the place she had failed to hold abreast of the Guerrier. The Orion followed, and, passing inside of the Goliath and Zealous (so wide was the space between the French ships and the shoal water), anchored by the Spartiate. The Audacious came along the same track and anchored by the Peuple Souverain. The Theseus passed astern of the Guerrier, through the overwide interval of 150 metres between the French ships, and ahead of the Conquerant, then swept inside of her comrades and assailed the Aquilon. Nelson came into action behind the Theseus, but passed outside the French line, and, neglecting the already overpowered Guerrier and Conquerant, anchored on the starboard side of the Spartiate which was already attacked on the port side by the Orion. The Minotaur passed outside the Vanguard and joined the Theseus in firing into the Aquilon. The Defence came on behind the Minotaur and assailed the Peuple Souverain. She had no colleague, but the French ship was so weak as to be hardly able to fire her guns without danger to herself and was no formidable antagonist. Thus eight English ships were in action with five French, of which three were more or less unfit to be in a line of battle. So the French van was rapidly crushed and the victory was won.

The destruction of the French squadron was not to be completed with the same ease. The next in order to the Peuple Souverain in the French line was the Franklin, 80, next to her came the Orient, 110, and the Tonnant, 80. These three powerful ships formed, as it were, a central citadel to the French line, and our most severe loss was suffered in action with them. The Bellerophon, which followed the Vanguard, passed the Franklin, and came under the broadside of the Orient. The Majestic went beyond the Bellerophon and came into action with the Tonnant. Both were severely mauled. The Bellerophon was shattered by the fire of the Orient, and drifted off down the bay. The Majestic was fiercely dealt with by the Tonnant, fell away from her, and became entangled with the next in the line, the Heureux. The Heureux’s captain, Etienne, had called up his men to repel boarders, or to board, when the [397]Majestic broke away and was brought up beside the Mercure. These two ships suffered far more severely than any of the others engaged. The Bellerophon lost 49 men killed and 148 wounded. The Majestic, 50, killed, including her captain Westcott, and 143 wounded. Between them they suffered a greater loss than all the ships of Jervis’s squadron at the battle of Cape St. Vincent. But now the vessels which had not been near enough to take part in the first attack began to come in. The Swiftsure attacked the Franklin and the Alexander, L’Orient. They were joined by the little Leander which had been delayed by her efforts to drag off the ever unlucky Culloden, which had grounded on the Aboukir shoal. The Leander anchored ahead of the Franklin and raked both her and the Orient. As the fire in the French van ceased by the surrender of the overpowered ships, our vessels dropped down and helped to crush the enemy’s centre. They were aided by the frightful disaster which befell the Orient. She caught fire and blew up. The French ships beyond her cut their cables and drifted away. The isolated Franklin fought long and gallantly but was overpowered at last. In the French rear Villeneuve, hesitating, contemplating difficulties, thinking of safety and seeking it not by grasping the nettle, but by evasion, as he was to do seven years later, did nothing to help his comrades. He thought it much that he could escape next morning with his flagship the Guillaume Tell, the Généreux and two frigates. Nelson, who had been wounded in the head by a langrage shot while engaged with the Aquilon, thought, that if he had not been disabled, even they would have been taken. But the case was indeed one for saying they had done very well. During the night and the following morning all the French ships, except Villeneuve’s four, were taken or destroyed. Brueys fell on the deck of his flagship. The total loss of the French is difficult to estimate. It has been put by themselves at 1451 killed and 1479 wounded. The loss in Nelson’s squadron was 218 killed and 678 wounded, and to that total of 896, the Bellerophon and the Majestic contributed 390. Of the ships which were active in crushing the van the Zealous lost only 1 killed and 7 wounded, the Theseus 4 killed and 7 wounded, the Defence 4 killed and 11 [398]wounded, while the Leander had only 14 men wounded and none killed.

Six days after the great turning movement had been wrecked in Aboukir Bay, the attack on England from the ocean ports of France began to be put into execution. It was to be directed through Ireland, and was to be double. One squadron under Savary was ordered to carry troops from Rochefort, while another and stronger squadron was to carry a division from Brest. Combined operations are liable to fail from obstacles which upset the most promising combination, and this was no exception to a common experience. Savary did indeed sail unseen from Rochefort on the 6th of August. He reached Killala Bay, between Sligo and Mayo, on the 21st. He had with him the Concorde, 40, the Franchise, 36, the Medée, 36, and the Venus, 28, and they carried General Humbert, an officer of much spirit and ingenuity, and 1150 soldiers. Now, as for the raid Humbert made, the victory he won at Castlebar, his surrender at Ballinamuck, and the difficulty he said he found in discovering a real general among the many English officers of that title he heard of, are they not written in the books of the chronicles of Ireland? The story inspires a profound gratitude to the Providence which confined the invasion to Humbert and 1150 men, and spared us Hoche with ten times (or more) that number. Having landed his charge, Savary was quickly away on the 23rd and anchored safely at Royan, in the Gironde, on the 9th September, from whence he returned to Rochefort on the 20th.

Bompard, who was to sail from Brest, was not so fortunate. His start was delayed first by want of money, for the finances of France were still in such a distressed state that the Government could not send him so small a sum as £6000 to pay the soldiers, and the men refused to sail without an advance. Then there was an alarm of an English inroad into Holland, and troops were held back to meet that danger. But the worst obstacle was the watch of the English blockading fleet. Its frigates cruised in the Iroise, and the line-of-battle ships were at hand. Bompard made one attempt to get away by the passage between the Black Rocks and Ushant, saw Bridport ahead of him, and went back. During [399]the night of the 16th September he did get away, for though the wind blew strongly from the N.E. off shore, Bridport had taken his ships away to the northward of Ushant. So Bompard was free to sail out through the Raz du Sein to the southward, under cover of the dark. Next morning he was clear of the land in hazy weather, but he saw, and was seen, by the Ethalion frigate, Captain Countess, who had with him the Boadicea frigate, Captain R. Keats, and the brig Sylph, Captain White. They were between him and the Bee du Raz. Captain Countess attached himself to the French squadron, which consisted of the Hoche, 74 (the old Pégase), the Immortalité, Romaine, Loire, Bellone, Coquille, Embuscade, Resolue, and Semillante frigates and a schooner. The squadron carried 3000 troops under Generals Hardy and Ménage. Captain Countess despatched the Boadicea to warn Bridport, who, after looking into the Iroise to obtain the evidence of his own eyes, sent warning home that a French squadron had escaped what a very polite fiction would call his vigilance.

The Ethalion followed Bompard, retiring when menaced, and coming back again when the French went on. Bompard took the seeming cautious, but in reality very rash, course of endeavouring to shake off his pursuer by steering wide out to the south. He could hardly have provided more effectually for his own defeat. His one chance of success (and it was a poor one now that Savary’s success had aroused his enemy’s vigilance and had turned his attention to the Irish Coast) was to head an intercepting force. Every hour he added to his voyage increased the danger that he would be intercepted, and he was. When Bridport’s message reached England Sir J. B. Warren was sent from Cawsand Bay to the west coast of Ireland to bar the road. He sailed on the 23rd September, and on the 10th October was off Achill Head. If Bompard had gone direct to his destination, Killala Bay, trusting, as from the nature of his task he had to trust, to fortune, he would have been off Tory Island some days before Warren was in a position to attack him, and might have landed Hardy in Killala Bay. As he preferred to try artful management, where speed and boldness were wanted, he was sighted on the 11th October, near the Island, by [400]Warren, who then had with him the Canada, 74, Robust, 74, Foudroyant, 80, Magnanime, Ethalion, Anson, Melampus, and Amelia frigates. The English officer pursued and overtook his enemy on the following day. The Hoche, Bompard’s one line-of-battle ship, was easily overpowered, and six of the frigates with her were captured in a succession of fights off the west coast of Ireland. The utmost audacity could have brought no worse fate on Bompard and his command.

Isolated French ships reached the Irish coast—as, for instance, the brig Anacreon, which in September visited the coast of Donegal, went back on hearing of the surrender of Humbert, and returned to her starting-point, Dunkirk, bringing a valuable prize with her. On the 12th October Savary sailed again from Rochefort with a larger squadron and 1090 soldiers. He looked into Killala, found that a landing was hopeless, and went back to Rochefort. He was chased and had to throw guns overboard to lighten his vessels, but he got back safe.

The direct invasion scheme had broken down. Yet the whole story puts these two questions—Did it break down because of the strength of our guard? What does the failure teach us to expect in the future? No fair-minded man can assert that fortune had no share in our success. Hoche’s expedition would have succeeded as fully as the expedition of Savary and Humbert, but for some measure of bad management on the part of Morard de Galle, and the persistence of bad weather. Of the expeditions of 1798, both of Savary’s reached the coast of Ireland and returned in safety. So did the Anacreon. Bompard alone was defeated at sea. The most obvious lesson of it all is of course that better management than Bridport’s will always be needed, and the better the enemy the greater the want. Other nations study these stories. We must not take it for granted that a French Revolution will help us by disorganising our foes.

The double failure in Egypt and on the coast of Ireland suspended all schemes of invasion for a time. France and England alike had their eyes fixed on Napoleon’s army in Egypt. The news of the disaster in Aboukir Bay produced a profound effect throughout Europe. A storm broke out in France against the Directory, who were accused of having [401]“deported” the best general and the best army of the Republic. Public men who had been loud in promoting the expedition began to throw the blame for it on one another. Public excitement and anger were aggravated by the speedy discovery that a new coalition was forming, and that France would again be called upon to fight for her very existence, at least for all she had gained by the Revolution. To recover Napoleon and his army became a leading object with the French. To keep them in Egypt was no less the object of England. The best that could have happened would have been that Napoleon should have made a serious attempt to carry out his grand scheme of marching on the footsteps of Alexander the Great, through Persia and Afghanistan to India. He would have perished on his march, and Europe would have escaped years of misery. But to keep him away from the battlefields of Europe was a real gain. The most effectual of all ways of doing this would have been to retain a large force on the coast of Egypt, and send out troops. It was not the course taken. Nelson sent the Leander home with his despatches carried by Captain Berry. She fell in with the Généreux on the 18th August, and was captured. On the 14th August Sir James Saumarez sailed with the Orion, Bellerophon, Minotaur, Defence, Audacious, Theseus, and Majestic, to escort the French prizes the Franklin, Tonnant, Aquilon, Conquérant, and Peuple Souverain. Three of the prizes were destroyed, and it would have been better that all should have been burnt. But the just reward of the toils and dangers of officers and men, and more especially of commanders-in-chief, junior admirals, and captains, was not to be thrown away. So Saumarez made a slow, painful voyage westward with his convoy of battered hulks. He summoned Malta, was defied by the French general, and gave arms to the islanders who had risen against the French, driven to desperation by pillage and the violation of their women. Malta was blockaded by the Portuguese ships which had served with Jervis, and the Lion, 64. On the 19th Nelson sailed with the Vanguard, Culloden, and Alexander for Naples. He left the Zealous, Goliath, and Swiftsure, the Seahorse, Emerald, and Alcmene frigates, and the Bonne Citoyene sloop to watch the coast of Egypt. He himself, in an evil hour, sailed for Naples. It is [402]not superfluous to point out that though Nelson was ardently desirous to weaken the French in Egypt he landed his prisoners, for whom he could with difficulty provide, and they afforded Napoleon a welcome reinforcement for his army. If the prizes had all been burnt after whatever stores were of use had been taken out of them, if Nelson had sought a basis of operations in some Turkish port in Crete or Cyprus, the prisoners could have been kept in one of those islands and Egypt better watched.

Our ships would at least have been better employed than many of them were destined to be on the coast of Naples. The operations in which he was engaged till he left the Mediterranean occupy a justly promoted place in the biography of Nelson. They need few words here, and those few only to show that they were a pure waste of force. The kingdom of Naples on the mainland was indefensible against a French army in central Italy by naval force. The Government was rotten and the troops were worthless. The obvious deduction from these facts was that we ought to have confined ourselves to blockading Malta, and ought to have warned the king of Naples that he was not to expect any help from us if he plunged into adventures. What happened was that Nelson, acting under influences which must be looked for in his biographies, egged on the king of Naples to make an attack on the French force occupying Rome, which brought on him an ignominious thrashing, and drove him to abject flight to Sicily in November and December of 1798. Henceforth a British squadron reinforced to eight sail of the line and four Portuguese were employed looking on idly at the occupation of Naples, till the advance of the Austrian and Russian armies in Northern Italy compelled the French to retreat. Then they rendered superfluous assistance to the Neapolitan Government to recover what could not be defended against it. While they were so employed their separation from other English forces in the Mediterranean helped to create a position of very serious danger. Meanwhile, an English squadron, under Rear-Admiral Duckworth, carrying troops under General Stuart, took possession of Minorca. The Turks took up arms against the French, and Russia intervened. The Ionian Isles, except Corfu, were regained from the French. [403]The Government at Paris was driven to see that an effort must be made in the Mediterranean.

Lord Palmerston is credited with the shrewd saying that whenever a man is heard to say that “something must be done,” it is safe to calculate on his doing something foolish. To strike out with no definite aim is rarely the way to deliver an effective stroke, though it may at times, and with help from fortune, be a more hopeful course than lying still. Whether the French Government matured any coherent scheme during the last months of 1798 and the first of 1799 is highly doubtful. We can only be sure as to what was actually done by them and for them. It was in substance this, that their fleet at Brest was sent into the Mediterranean, if not to do some definite thing, at least to see what could be done. The Minister of Marine, Eustache Bruix, came down from Paris to take command himself. He was well supplied with money, and it was in his power to pay the sailors and dockyard hands. Great and ardent exertions were made. The ships were better appointed and far better manned than any French fleet had been during the war. The admiral was popular with the men, and he had cause to look with confidence on the force which he had equipped by the middle of April. It consisted of the following ships of the line. The Ocean, Invincible, Républicain, Terrible of 110 guns; the Formidable and Indomptable of 84; the Jemmapes, Montblanc, Tyrannicide, Batave, Constitution, Révolution, Fongueux, Censeur, Zélé, Redoutable, Wattignies, Tourville, Cisalpin, Jean Bart, Gaulois, Convention, Duquesne, J. J. Rousseau, Dix Août of 74, together with ten frigates, sloops, and ships armed en flûte as store ships.

Bridport had joined the small squadron which was watching Brest in April, and had with him sixteen sail of the line. He had looked into the Iroise, and knew that the French were preparing for sea, but according to his usual practice he cruised at some distance to the W.S.W. of Ushant. On the very day on which he took up his position—the 25th April—Bruix sailed through the Raz du Sein. He was sighted by the Nymphe frigate, Captain Fraser, who at once reported to Bridport. The English admiral, punctual as ever in his own fashion, looked into Brest once more on the 26th, and then went [404]off to Cape Clear. He was convinced that the enemy were bound for Ireland, and they confirmed his belief by putting a small vessel carrying an officer entrusted with a misleading dispatch in his way, an old but well-preserved stratagem. Bridport sent warnings to Cadiz and to England, and Bruix was left at liberty to go south.

The situation in front of him was nearly all he could wish. There was indeed no French force he could join. The Généreux was at Corfu, and the Guillaume Tell at Malta. Nine vessels taken from the Venetians were scattered between Alexandria, Ancona, and Toulon, but they were of no value. On the other hand, the Spaniards had a squadron of uncertain number and certain inefficiency at Cadiz, which had to be watched by the English, and was therefore of indirect help to Bruix. Nothing need be said of the Russians and Turks, save that they were moving in the Mediterranean. Bruix’ real opponents were the English, and they were scattered. Fifteen sail of the line under Lord Keith were blockading Cadiz. One was at Tetuan. Four were with Duckworth at Minorca. Nelson had eight English sail of the line and four Portuguese, divided between the blockade of Malta, the harbour of Palermo, where he himself lay at the urgent prayer of King Ferdinand to calm the nerves of the old women of both sexes in the runaway Neapolitan Court, and the coast of Southern Italy, where the Royalists were gaining ground against the Republic set up by the French. As the French troops had been called off to meet the allies in Northern Italy, the Republic was collapsing from internal weakness. Minorca was of real value as a basis for a strong fleet blockading Toulon. As an isolated post hastily occupied by a handful of soldiers, it was a mere burden. The whole disposition of our forces was as unintelligent and as vicious as it well could have been. Our naval forces in the Levant engaged in watching the coasts of Egypt and Syria may be left aside as not being immediately affected, and as being too far off to render prompt help.

On the 3rd May, Keith was told by the Success frigate that she had sighted the French off Oporto coming south. With a big fleet coming against him from the Ocean, and nineteen, or so, Spaniards more or less ready for sea in Cadiz, [405]his position looked hazardous. He had need for steady nerve, but the admiral though not a brilliant nor quick-witted man possessed that solid virtue in a useful degree. He waited, ready for fight or retreat, till he saw what was going to happen. On the 4th, in the morning, the French were sighted, thirty-three sail of them, in the W.N.W. The wind was blowing hard from the west, rising to a storm, and it drove curtains of confusing sea fog before it. As it blew right into Cadiz Bay, the Spaniards could not move. Keith kept between them and the French. His expert ships maintained their formation and lost no spars in the stormy weather, which threw the French into confusion and caused them much minor damage. The fleets lost sight of one another in the fog, and on the 5th Bruix ran through the Straits before the gale. Two or three of his liners had suffered damage by collision and loss of spars, but he might have sent all three into Carthagena and still have had twenty-two for a bold stroke. It was not till the 12th that Nelson at Palermo heard of the inroad of the Brest fleet into the Mediterranean. If Bruix had employed those seven days in steering for Southern Italy, he had ninety-nine chances out of a hundred to souse down on the vessels blockading Malta before they knew of his approach, to capture them, to cut off Nelson at Palermo, leaving him to rage single-handed with the Vanguard among the old women of both sexes of the Neapolitan Court, to fall on the ships on the coast of Naples, capturing, driving ashore, or driving off every one of them. Then he might have gone on to the Riviera and Toulon by the east of Sardinia and Corsica, after doing his cause a substantial service. He knew the divided state of the English forces. He had laid some such plan as this. But like his brother French admirals in this war, he was chilled by the first check. The damage suffered by his ships on the 4th and 5th froze his ardour, and he steered piteously for Toulon, where he anchored on the 14th May with his two crippled ships, the Batàve and the Fougueux. And now for two months these numerous fleets, French and English, were engaged in missing one another in a game of blind man’s buff.

St. Vincent saw the French pass the Straits on the 5th, and at once summoned the Edgar from Tetuan, and [406]Keith from his cruising ground between Cadiz and Cape Spartel. On the 12th he followed Bruix—or rather, he steered for Minorca to join Duckworth, who was in danger of being cut off, and to cover the island, which in the absence of a covering naval force might have been retaken by the Spaniards. He joined Duckworth on the 20th, and had twenty sail of the line on hand. On that day Nelson had concentrated his ships at Maritimo. On that day, too, the Spaniards, who on finding the blockade of Cadiz raised by the withdrawal of Keith, had come to sea hoping to be able to retake Minorca, staggered into Carthagena half dismasted by the gale. On the 22nd, St. Vincent left Minorca for Toulon, but hearing that the Spaniards were coming round, put himself on their road to Toulon at Cape San Sebastian on the 26th. On that day Bruix left Toulon for the Riviera with twenty-two sail to co-operate with the French armies now fighting in retreat before the allies. On the 30th May, St. Vincent was joined by Rear-Admiral Whitshed with five sail of the line sent out from home to reinforce him. On the same day he sent Duckworth with four ships to join Nelson. He now moved up the coast towards Toulon, but on the 2nd June he found his health unequal to the strain of service at sea, and left the fleet for Minorca in his flagship the Ville de Paris, 100—for he would not go, so he said, in a frigate “like a convict,” and his regard for his dignity was strong enough to make him weaken his successor by the loss of a very powerful ship. Keith, to whom the command now fell, went towards Toulon, while Bruix after convoying a fleet of transports with provisions to the French garrison of Genoa, went to Vado, and anchored there on the 4th. His movement to the east was revealed to Keith by the crew of a prize, and he went in pursuit on the 5th. When off Cape Delle Melle, he received orders from St. Vincent to detach two more ships to Nelson, and to cruise off Rosas to intercept Bruix, who was, rightly enough, supposed to be bound for Carthagena. If the commander-in-chief had abstained from meddling, Keith would probably have met Bruix with twenty ships against the Frenchman’s twenty-two. On the 8th June, Bruix left Vado for Carthagena, which was what St. Vincent calculated he would do. If he were bound in that direction, what [407]need was there to reinforce the distant squadron of Nelson at the expense of the immediately threatened fleet of Keith, which was reduced by the detachment to eighteen sail of the line? If to divide your forces in the presence of an enemy is a blunder, and what Napoleon when criticising Cornwallis called an “insigne bêtise” then St. Vincent committed that blunder, that insigne bêtise. If Keith had obeyed his orders precisely, he would in all probability have met Bruix with eighteen ships to twenty-two. But Keith was aware of his inferiority in numbers, and he came to Minorca to pick up the Ville de Paris. The Frenchman slipped through the gap he left, and reached Carthagena on the 22nd June. While he was going on his way, and the Batàve and Fougueux, repaired at Toulon, followed and joined him, Keith first picked up the Ville de Paris on the 15th June, and went back to watch Toulon. On the 19th he secured more reward for toils and dangers by capturing a small French squadron of three frigates and two brigs under Rear-Admiral Perrée, who had escaped from Syria and was on his way home. He cruised off Toulon from the 20th to the 23rd, while Bruix was anchoring at Carthagena, while Nelson was still watching for him, and while the Royalist forces were completing the ruin of the Republicans at Naples. On the 24th he went to Vado, just as Nelson, relieved from anxiety about Bruix, came into the Bay of Naples in time to secure his dear King and Queen of Naples a fine feast of hangings and torturings to console them for their spasms of terror during the last few months. The Republicans had been beaten without need of our help, but if Nelson had not been at hand to see that due vengeance was taken on Jacobins, they would have saved their lives by capitulation. On the 25th, Bruix sailed from Carthagena with the refitted Spanish ships. Next day Keith went to Vado, and from thence to the east end of Minorca. On the 27th June he wrote to Nelson asking him to send such ships as he could spare to assist in defending Minorca, and Nelson refused on the ground that the safety of His Sicilian Majesty’s dominions must be secured. Bruix, the only enemy who could have assailed either, was then on his way from Carthagena to Cadiz, which he reached on the 11th July. On the 8th, Keith had been joined near Minorca by Sir [408]Charles Cotton, who brought twelve sail of the line from home. On the 10th he left in pursuit of the French, of whose presence at Carthagena he had been informed. On the 21st July, Bruix sailed from Cadiz, dragging with him a reluctant Spanish squadron which was forced to accompany him by its intimidated Government. When Keith sailed from Gibraltar on the 30th July the Frenchman had a long start, and it was lucky for him that he