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Defeat Of The Spanish Fleet In The Faro Off Messina






BY JOHN CAMPBELL.


Early in the year 1718 the activity of the naval preparations in
England, rendered necessary by the disturbed condition of Europe,
excited considerable anxiety and comment.

M. de Monteleone, the Spanish minister here, a man of foresight and
intrigue, taking alarm, in a memorial dated March 18th, 1718,
represented "That so powerful an armament in time of peace could not but
cause umbrage to the king his master and alter the good intelligence
that reigned between the two crowns." To which King George I. replied,
"That it was not his intention to conceal the object of the armament;
and that he designed soon to send Admiral Byng with a powerful squadron
into the Mediterranean, in order to maintain the neutrality of Italy
against those who should seek to disturb it." The reasons assigned for
acting with so much vigour were the preparations made in Spain for
attacking the island of Sicily and the hardships suffered by British
merchants.

In the month of March, 1718, Sir George Byng was appointed admiral and
commander-in-chief of the squadron intended for the Mediterranean; and
in the May following he received his instructions as follows: "That he
should, upon his arrival in the Mediterranean, acquaint the King of
Spain, and likewise the Viceroy of Naples and Governor of Milan, he was
sent into that sea in order to promote all measures that might best
contribute to the composing the differences arisen between the two
crowns, and for preventing any further violation of the neutrality of
Italy, which he was to see preserved. That he was to make instances to
both parties to forbear all acts of hostility, in order to the setting
on foot and concluding the proper negotiations of peace. But, in case
the Spaniards should still persist to attack the emperor's territory in
Italy, or to land in any part of Italy for that purpose, or should
endeavour to make themselves masters of the island of Sicily, which must
be with a design to invade the kingdom of Naples, he was then, with all
his power, to hinder and obstruct the same; but, if they were already
landed, he was to endeavour amicably to dissuade them from persevering
in such an attempt, and to offer them his assistance to withdraw their
troops and put an end to all farther acts of hostility; but if his
friendly endeavours should prove ineffectual he was then to defend the
territories attacked, by keeping company with, or intercepting their
ships, convoys, or (if necessary) by opposing them openly."

The admiral sailed from Spithead on June 15th, 1718, with twenty ships
of the line-of-battle, two fire-ships, two bomb-vessels, a
hospital-ship, and a store-ship. Arriving on the 30th off Cape St.
Vincent he despatched the Superbe to Cadiz, with a letter to Colonel
Stanhope, the king's envoy at Madrid, desiring him to inform the King of
Spain of his arrival in those parts on his way to the Mediterranean, and
to lay before him the instructions he had received.

The envoy showed the letter to Cardinal Alberoni, who, upon reading it,
told him with some warmth, that "his master would run all hazards,
rather than recall his troops or consent to any suspension of arms;"
adding, that "the Spaniards were not to be frightened, and that he was
so well convinced of their fleets doing their duty that if the admiral
should think fit to attack them he should be in no pain for the
success." Mr. Stanhope having in his hand a list of the British
squadron, desired his eminence to peruse it, and to compare its strength
with that of their own squadron; this the cardinal took and threw on the
ground with much passion.

All that the cardinal could be brought to promise was to lay the
admiral's letter before the king, and to let the envoy know his
resolution upon it in two days; but it was nine before he could obtain
and send it away. The answer was written under the admiral's letter in
these words:--

"His Catholic Majesty has done me the honour to tell me that the
Chevalier Byng may execute the orders which he has from the king
his master.

"THE CARDINAL ALBERONI.

"ESCURIAL, July 15th, 1718."

The admiral, pursuing his voyage with unfavourable winds, reached the
Bay of Naples on August the 1st, and on the 9th anchored in view of the
Faro of Messina. The Spanish army, having taken the city of Messina,
were now encamped before the citadel which the troops under Sir George
Byng's convoy were intended to relieve. From these strained conditions
hostilities seemed imminent, and the desire of the English was that the
Spaniards should take the responsibility and the blame of striking the
first blow.

Under these circumstances Sir George Byng sent Captain Saunders with a
letter to the Marquis de Lede, in which he acquainted him with the
instructions under which he was acting, and proposed to him to come to a
cessation of arms in Sicily for two months, in order to give time for
the several courts to conclude on such resolutions as might restore a
lasting peace: but added that "if he was not so happy as to succeed in
this offer of service, nor to be instrumental in bringing about so
desirable a work, he then hoped to merit His Excellency's esteem in the
execution of the other part of his orders, which were, to use all his
force to prevent farther attempts to disturb the dominions his master
stood engaged to defend."

The next morning the captain returned with the general's answer, "That
as he had no powers to treat he could not of consequence agree to any
suspension of arms, but should follow his orders, which directed him to
seize on Sicily for his master the King of Spain." Upon receiving this
answer Admiral Byng immediately weighed, with the intention of coming
with his squadron before Messina, in order to encourage and support the
garrison and the citadel. In executing this manoeuvre he sighted two
Spanish scouts in the Faro; whereupon he altered his design, and stood
through the Faro with all the sail he could, following the scouts,
imagining they would lead him to the fleet, which they did. About noon
he came in view of their whole Spanish fleet, lying by and drawn into a
line of battle, consisting of twenty-seven sail of men-of-war small and
great, besides two fire-ships, four bomb-vessels, seven galleys, and
several ships laden with stores and provisions, commanded by the Admiral
Don Antonio de Casteneta and four rear-admirals, who, sighting the
English squadron, stood away large but in good order of battle.

The admiral followed them all the rest of that day and the succeeding
night, and the next morning early, the English having approached near to
them, the Marquis de Mari, rear-admiral, with six Spanish men-of-war and
all the galleys, fire-ships, bomb-vessels and store-ships, separated
from the main fleet and stood in for the Sicilian shore; upon which
Admiral Byng detached Captain Walton in the Canterbury with five other
ships to follow them.

The admiral pursuing the main body of the Spanish fleet, the Orford,
Captain Falkingham, and the Grafton, Captain Haddock, came up first
with them, about ten o'clock, the Spaniards firing their stern-chase
guns. The Spaniards repeating their fire, the Orford attacked the
Santa Rosa, of sixty-four guns, and took her. The St. Carlos, of
sixty guns, struck next, without much opposition to the Kent, Captain
Matthews. The Grafton attacked warmly the Prince of Asturias, of
seventy guns, formerly called the Cumberland, in which was
Rear-admiral Chacon; but the Breda and Captain coming up, Captain
Haddock left that ship, much shattered, for them to take, and stretched
ahead after another ship of sixty guns, which had kept firing on his
starboard bow during his engagement with the Prince of Asturias. About
one o'clock the Kent, and soon after the Superbe, Captain Master,
came up with and engaged the Spanish admiral of seventy-four guns, who,
with two ships more, fired on them and made a running fight till about
three; and then the Kent, bearing down under his stern, gave him her
broadside and fell to leeward afterwards; the Superbe, putting forward
to lay the admiral aboard, fell on his weather-quarter; upon which, the
Spanish admiral shifting his helm, the Superbe ranged under his
lee-quarter; on which he struck to her. At the same time the Barfleur,
which carried the English admiral, being astern of the Spanish admiral,
within shot, and inclining on his weather-quarter, Rear-admiral Guevara
and another sixty-gun ship, which were to windward, bore down upon him,
and gave him their broadsides, and then clapped upon a wind, standing in
for land. The admiral immediately tacked and stood after them until it
was almost night; but there being little wind, and the enemy hauling
away out of his reach, he left pursuing them and rejoined the fleet two
hours after night.

The Essex took the Juno of thirty-six guns, the Montague and
Rupert took the Volante of forty-four guns, and Rear-admiral
Delaval, in the Dorsetshire, took the Isabella of sixty guns. The
action happened off Cape Passaro, at about six leagues' distance from
the shore. The English received but little damage: the ship that
suffered most was the Grafton, for, being a good sailer, her captain
engaged several ships in succession, always pursuing the headmost and
leaving the ships he had disabled or damaged to be taken by those that
followed him. The admiral lay by for some days at sea to refit the
rigging of his ships and to repair the damages which the prizes had
sustained, and on the 18th received a letter from Captain Walton, who
had been sent in pursuit of the Spanish ships which had made for the
Sicilian shore under the Marquis de Mari. The letter is singular enough
to deserve notice. It ran thus:--

"SIR,--We have taken and destroyed all the Spanish ships and
vessels which were upon the coast, the number as per margin.

"I am, etc.,

"GEORGE WALTON.

"CANTERBURY, OFF SYRACUSE, August 16th, 1718."

The ships that Captain Walton thrust into his margin would have
furnished matter for some pages in a French relation of the engagement;
for, from the account they referred to, it appeared that he had taken
four Spanish men-of-war--one of sixty guns, commanded by Rear-admiral
Mari, one of fifty-four, one of forty, and one of twenty-four guns with
a bomb-vessel and a ship laden with arms--and burnt four men-of-war, one
of fifty-four guns, two of forty, and one of thirty guns, with a
fire-ship and a bomb-vessel.





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