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way, as a signal for keeping her course, when to the astonishment of admiral Keppel and the whole fleet, she suddenly poured her whole broad-side, accompanied with a general discharge of musketry, into the America, of 74 guns, at the instant lord Longford, her commander, was standing upon the gunwale, and talking in terins of the utmost politeness to the French captain. The frigate instantly struck her colours, as soon as she had discharged her fire. Only four of the America's people were wounded. Notwithstanding the provocation, lord Longford had such command of his temper as not to return a single shot. Another French frigate falling in with the fleet, was detained by the admiral, under the plea of hostility committed by the Licorne ; but several French merchantmen wer suffered to pass through the fleet unmolested. The capture of the French frie gates afforded the admiral a source of the most critical and alarming information. He was now within sight of Ushant, when he discovered to his astonishment, that the French ficet in Brest road and Brest water, amounted to thirty-two ships of the line, beside ten or twelve frigates, while his own force consisted only of twenty of the former and three of the latter. The odds bés tween the two fleets was so vast, that he could not justify risk. ing an action, which might prove fatal to the kingdom. But it gave him the greatest uneasiness to find himse f obliged to turn his back on France. The French no sooner determined to take a decided part with the Americans, than they assiduously applied themselves to the getting of their navy into the utmost forwardness for actual service; and had proceeded with such profound secrecy that the strength of it had not transpired so as to reach the British ministry, who appear to have been wanting in procuring good and early intelligence; which was a matter of so much importance in the estimation of the French, that they used every means for obtaining it. The Brest fleet lay ready for sailing; and was only detained till the destination of admiral Byron's force could be ascertained at Paris.
[June 27.] On the return of the British fleet to Portsmouth, the admiral's conduct was branded with the most opprobrious terms, and ascribed to the most disgraceful motives, and his general character treated with the most indecent scurrility in those publications which he considered as under the immediate direction of the ministers. He bore all with wonderful temper; made no complaints; pressed forward the preparations for his rem turn to sea, without noise or parade; and submitted to all the unmerited reproach thrown upon him, without being provoked to a justification, which, by the narration of the fact, must have criminated the first lord of the admiralty. The seasonable arrit VOL. II,
val of che two first of the British West-India fleets, and of the Levant trade, brought in a supply of seamen at the most critical period in which they could have been wanted. By this mean, and the exertions every where used by the admiralty, Képpel was enabled to put again to sea, on the ninth of July, with 24 ships of the line, and was joined on the way by six trore; he had also an addition of one frigate and two fire ships. Mean while the French king made use of the engagement with the Belle Poule and the taking of the other frigates, as the ostensi. ble ground for issuing out orders for a reprisal on British ships, and the ordinance signed the 28th of March, was immediately published. Similar measures were pursued in Great-Britain, when the account of these transactions was received. - Thus nothing of war was wanting between the two nations, excepting the formality of the declaration..
The force and destination of admiral Byron being at length made certain to the French ministry, orders were sent to the * Brest fleet to proceed to sea. They instantly weighed anchor,
and sailed the day preceding the departure of the British flect * from Portsmouth. They amounted to 32 ships of the line, and
a cloud of frigates, and were divided into three squadrons, the whole under the command of the count d'Orvilliers, who was assisted in his own particular division, by admiral the count de Guichen. The second was commanded by the count Duchaf
fault, assisted by monsieur de Rochechovart; and the third by the - duke of Chartres, a prince of the blood, seconded by admiral
the count de Grasse. The duke was sent on board by the court to animate the fleet, and to intimate the greatness of the objects proposed, and how much reliance was placed on the courage and exertions of the officers and seamen. The British fieet was also thrown into three divisions, the van being commanded by Sir Robert Harland, and the rear by Sir Hugh Palliser. The cominander in chief, with the centre division, was assisted by the yoluntary services of admiral Campbell, a brave and experienced officer, who from ancient friendship and a long participation of danger and service, condescended to act as first captain in Keppel's own ship, the Victory. The two fleets came in sight of
each other on the 23d, in the afternoon. From the movements of : the French admiral, it was infcrred that he had no knowledge of
the increase of Keppel's strength; but considered his fleet as be. ing in number the same as when on its station before Brest. He appeared disposed to bring on an immediate action, but when the fleets approached so near as to discover each other's force, he apparently relinquished that determination, and continued afterward to eyade, with great caution and knowledge in his profession, all those endeavours which were used on the other side to bring on an engagement.' Through a fresh gale and a change of wind in the night, th French gained the weather gage, by which they had the advantage either of bringing it on, or of totally avoiding it. But two of their line of battle ships fell considerably, to the leeward, and were so effectually cut off from the rest of the feet, that they were never able to rejoin it during the remainder of the cruise. This put the hostile fleets on an equality in point of number, with respect to line of battle ships. The British fleet continued constantly to beat up against the wind in pursuit of the « French, who declined.coming to a general engagement, as they daily expected a strong reinforcement, and hoped to intercept the comirercial fleets, that, while making for the British ports, would have to pass through the track in which their numerous . frigates were stationed. Admiral Keppel penetrated their motives, and labored to bring them to action; and as the preserving
of a regular line of battle with any hope of it was evidently im- practicable, the signal for chasing to windward was kept con
stantly flying: Ljuly 27.] Some sudden shifts of wind, together with an unexpected and unintentional effect produced by an evo*lution on the French side, being all improved by the most master
ły efforts on the other, brought the two fleet so close that they could not part without an action. But the French endeavored to avade its consequences as much as possible ; and by suddenly putting about on the contrary tack, altered the course of the ships in each fleet, so that they could engage only as they passed, instead of lying side to side, and thereby making an effectual impression.
The French began, by firing at a great distance on the lieadmost of Sir Bobert Harland's division as the ships led up, but not "a shot was returned till they were near the enemy. The example
was followed, or a similar conduct pursued by the fleet in general, ** as fast as each ship could close up with the French ; and not- withstanding their having been necessarily extended by the chase, • they were all soon in batile. As the tieets passed each other very : close on the opposite tacks, the cannonade was heavy, and the
effect considerable. The action lasted about three hours. As
the french in their usual way, directed their firc principally aégainst the rigging, several of the British ships suffered consider
abole in their masis, yards and sails. The British fixe which -- vas principally levelled at the liulls of the ensuy, was pot defiscient in iis effect of another kind, the destruction of the seamen. $. The action being over for the present, admiral Keppel hauled
dows the signal for battle, till the ships could recover their sta1.2.11, 4 st gear enougła to support each other on the renewal
of the action. To call them together for that purpose, he im mediately made the signal to form the line of battle a-head, which was considered as commanding the most prompt obedience. Admiral Palliser was at this moment in his proper sta.. tion ; but quitted it and passing Keppel to leeward on the contrary tack, while the latter was advancing to the enemy, never came into the line during the rest of the day. Palliser being totally out of the line, other ships for a-stern, and 5.disabled in their rigging, at a great distance to leeward, the British admiral, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, could not collect above twelve ships to renew the engagement. The French observing the exposed situation of the British ships which had fallen to leeward to repair their damages, edged away with an evident intention of cutting them off from the rest of-the feet. Adm. Keppel instantly discerned their design and the danger of the ships, and suddenly wore and stood athwart the van of the enemy, in a diagonal line, for their protection. He also dispatched orders to Sir Robert Harland to form his division at a distance astern of the Victory, to cover the rear and keep the enemy in check, till Palliser should, in obedience to the signal, come with his division into his proper station. The protection of the disabled ships being accomplished, and the French continuing to form their line, ranging up to leeward parallel to the centre division, it became the adniiral's inmediate object to form his as specdily as possible, in order to bear down upon them and renew the battle: Seeing Palliser still to windward, he sent capt. Windsor of the fox frigate with express orders to him to bear down into his wake ; and to tell him, that he only waited for hiin and his division to renew the attack. This order not producing the desired effect, the admiral threw.out the signal for all ships to come into their stations ; and again at seven o'clock, being wearied out with fruitless expectation, he made the signal for each particular ship of Palliser's division to come into her station in the line ; but before they had complied with this signal, night put an end to all further operations.-t From a motive of delicacy, no signal was particularly thrown out to the Formidable, Sir Hugh Palliser's own ship. .
· The French could have renewed the action during every hour of the afternoon, with apparent advantages, which from the site- ation of affairs could not possibly have escaped their observation.
Their conduct the following night indicated their indisposition to a renewal of it. Three of their best sailing vessels were stationed at proper distances with lights to divert the attention of the British fleet, and to induce a belief that their whole line still kept its position. During this deception the rest of the fleet withdrew in the most silent manner, without lights or other sig
nals than the throwing up of some rockets; and made tlie best of their way to Brest, where they arrived the next evening. By day-light the French fleet had got at such a distance, that the Brink tish admiral concluded, he had not the smallest prospect of coni ing up with them, and that neither a general nor partial pursuit could answer any beneficial purpose. He therefore left only a proper force to protect the homeward bound trade, and then made the best of his way to Plymouth, as being the nearest port, in order to put the fleet into a proper condition to return in quest of the enemy.
It was observed on the day of action with equal surprise and Fegret, and by some of the bravest and most experienced British officers, that the French worked and mancuvred their ships, with a degree of seaman-like address and dexterity, which they never before perceived. The event of the day, and the consequent escape of the French fieet were to admiral Keppel intolexably grievous. By his consummate skiM, and the most incessant industry, he had gained after four days pursuit of the enemy, one of the fairest opportunities of doing the most signal service to his country, in the most critical exigency, and of raising his own pame to the summit of naval renown. He hoped to have made the 27th of July, “ a proud day to Great-Britain." All these mighty advantages and glorious rewards were unaccountably ravished from hini, when they appeared within his grasp. In Plys mouth, the failure of a complete victory was attributed to Sir Hugh Palliser ; whose non-compliance with the admiral's signals has been ascribed by many to the disabled condition of some of the ships in his division. :. The admiral, with wonderful temper, and no less prudence, accommodated his conduct to the necessity of his situation, and made the public security and interest the only objects of his direction. He advanced no charge against Palliser. His public letter was short, general, and barren of information. It stated facts so far as it went, threw no blame upon any body, and commended the bravery of the officers in general, and of Sir Robert Harland and Sir Hugh Palliser in particular. . But this approbation is to be applied only to the particular circumstances and immediate time of the action: the subsequent transactions of the afternoon, were in general thrown into the shade; and the . Causes that prevented a renewal of the engagement left in sucki. obscurity, as las drawn no small share of censure upon Keppel himself. . The French ficet returned to Brest considerably damaged.in their hulls, but glorying in an action, wherein they had engaged - an equal number of British ships without the loss of a single ves