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Off Gibraltar






It is not to be supposed that our enemies quietly accepted the conquest
of Gibraltar by Sir George Rooke as final; indeed, a very short time
elapsed before they began to make efforts to regain it.

The Spaniards, who were the best judges, found our possession of the
great fortress so great a thorn in their sides that they prevailed upon
the French to hazard an engagement at sea to facilitate their re-taking
it, and afterwards obtained a squadron of French ships, under the
command of Monsieur de Pointis, to assist them in carrying on a siege.
The Prince of Hesse having sent early advice of this to Lisbon, Sir John
Leake, in the beginning of the month of October, 1704, proceeded with
his squadron to the relief of the garrison, and actually landed several
gunners, carpenters, and engineers, with a body of four hundred marines;
but receiving intelligence that the French were approaching with a force
much superior to his own, he found it necessary to return to Lisbon.

He did this with a view only to refit and to be in a better condition to
supply and assist the garrison in a second expedition, for which he had
very prudently directed preparations to be made in his absence. This
enabled him to put to sea again on October 25th, and on the 29th he
entered the Bay of Gibraltar at a very critical juncture; for that very
night the enemy intended to storm the town on all sides, and had
procured two hundred boats from Cadiz in order to land three thousand
men near the new mole. Sir John Leake entered so suddenly that he
surprised two frigates in the bay, one of forty-two and the other of
twenty-four guns, a brigantine of fourteen, a fire-ship of sixteen, a
store-ship full of bombs, and two English prizes; while a tartane and a
frigate of thirty guns, which had just left the bay, were taken by an
English ship that followed him.

The enemy, notwithstanding these discouragements, continued the siege in
expectation of strong naval succours from France, and therefore Sir John
Leake resolved to land as many men as he could spare to reinforce the
garrison. This he performed on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of November, and
continued still on the coast in order to alarm and distress the enemy.
On the 19th and 20th he ordered his smallest frigates as near the shore
as possible, and then manned his boats as if he intended a descent. This
was done so slowly that the Spanish general had time to draw down a
great body of cavalry, upon which the admiral put his design in
execution and saluted them in such a manner with his great and small
arms that they scampered back to their camp with great precipitation.
The Centurion arrived on November 22nd, and brought in with her a
French prize from Martinico, very richly laden; and, at the same time,
gave the admiral intelligence that he had discovered a very strong
squadron in the Bay of Cadiz, which he apprehended would soon be in a
condition to sail. Upon this Sir John Leake resolved to put to sea, and
to stand with his fleet to the eastward of Gibraltar, that he might be
the better able to take such measures as should be found necessary, as
well for the preservation of the place as for securing the succours that
were expected from Lisbon.

On December 7th the Antelope arrived with nine transports under her
convoy, and two days afterwards the Newcastle with seven more, having
on board nearly two thousand land troops. These escaped the French fleet
very luckily; for when they were off Cape Spartel they had sight of
Monsieur Pointis's squadron, consisting of twenty-four sail of
men-of-war sailing under English and Dutch colours. As they expected to
meet the confederate fleet under Sir John Leake and Rear-admiral
Vanderdussen thereabouts they were readily deceived and did their
utmost to join their enemies. Being becalmed they put their boats to sea
on both sides to tow the ships; but, observing that the men-of-war
stretched themselves and endeavoured to make a half-moon to surround
them, they made a private signal which Sir John Leake would have
understood. This betrayed the French, who, finding themselves
discovered, put up their colours and endeavoured to fall upon the
transports; which, however, escaped by means of their oars, and night
coming on got away by favour of a small breeze from the south-west. By
the arrival of these succours the garrison of Gibraltar was increased to
upwards of three thousand men; and having already obtained many
advantages over the enemy, it was no longer thought requisite to keep
the fleet, which by long service was now but in an indifferent
condition, either in the bay or on the coast; whereupon it was
unanimously resolved to sail with all convenient speed to Lisbon in
order to refit and to provide further supplies for the garrison, in
case, as the Spaniards gave out, they should receive such reinforcements
from King Louis and King Philip as would enable them to renew the siege
both by land and sea. This resolution was as speedily executed as wisely
taken, and the fleet arrived at Lisbon in the latter end of 1704.

Four years later fortune favoured Sir John Leake in these waters once
again.

Upon receiving advice from Colonel Elliot, governor of Gibraltar, in
April 1708, that some French ships of war were seen cruising off the
Straits mouth the admiral sailed from the river of Lisbon on the 28th,
and, in his passage up the Straits on May 11th, when about twelve
leagues from Alicante, sighted several vessels which he took to be
fishing-boats. Sir John had previously detached some light frigates to
give notice of the approach of his fleet, and one of them had had the
good luck to take a French frigate of twenty-four guns, from which he
obtained an account of a convoy that was expected. Upon this the
captains of our frigates made the necessary dispositions for
intercepting it. The next day the French convoy appeared in sight,
consisting of three men of war, one of forty-four, another of forty,
and the third of thirty-two guns, with ninety settees and tartanes laden
with wheat, barley, and oil for the use of the Duke of Orleans' army,
and bound for Peniscola, near the mouth of the Ebro. The British
frigates bore down immediately upon the enemy's men-of-war, who,
however, abandoning their barques and endeavouring to make their escape,
came in view of the main fleet, upon which Sir John Leake made signal to
give chase. As our great ships could not follow them near the coast, the
French made their escape in the night; but the vice-admiral of the
white, perceiving the barques near the coast, sent his long-boats and
small ships in and took several of them. The next morning others were
captured, and some barques of Catalonia, coming out of their harbours to
secure a share in the booty, sixty-nine of them were taken and the rest
dispersed.





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Previous: The Story Of Sir George Rooke



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