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First Steps Up The Ladder
A CHAPTER FROM NELSON'S CAREER. BY ROBERT SOUTHEY. Th...

The Battle Of Beachy Head
There was little to record to the honour of the navy in the...

The Story Of Admiral Benbow
BY JOHN CAMPBELL. Admiral Benbow was descended from the ...

The Mutiny Of 1797
AT SPITHEAD, APRIL 15TH.--AT THE NORE, MAY 22nd. In the ...

The Story Of The Battle Of Trafalgar
BY ROBERT SOUTHEY. In 1803 the short-lived Peace of Amie...

The Loss Of Hms Namur
BY JAMES ALMS. On July 15th, 1747, Captain Boscawen was ...

The Glorious First Of June
On January 21st, 1793, Louis XVI. of France was guillotined...

The Story Of Sir John Hawkins
AND THE TROUBLESOME VOYAGE MADE WITH THE JESUS OF LUBECK, T...

In Indian Seas
1758-9. Though the great achievements of large fleets ar...

The Loss Of Hms Centaur
BY CAPTAIN INGLEFIELD. The storm which proved fatal to t...

Defeat Of The Spanish Fleet In The Faro Off Messina
BY JOHN CAMPBELL. Early in the year 1718 the activity of...

The Story Of Sir George Rooke
BY JOHN CAMPBELL. THE LOSS OF THE SMYRNA FLEET OFF ST. V...

The Story Of The First Dutch War
BY JOHN CAMPBELL. The causes of this war are differently...

The Story Of Santa Cruz
BY ROBERT SOUTHEY. About the middle of the year 1797 Nel...

The Story Of Sir John Berry
BY JOHN CAMPBELL. As an illustration of the way in which...

The Loss Of The Royal George
BY G. H. WALKER. When the brave die in battle, the ardou...

The Victory Of La Hogue
BY JOHN CAMPBELL. On the dismissal of the Earl of Torrin...

Off Cape Finisterre
Towards the end of the year 1746 the French ministry came t...

The Story Of Sir Thomas Howard And Sir Andrew Barton
BY JOHN CAMPBELL. In the third year of the reign of Henr...

The Loss Of Hms Repulse
BY G. H. WALKER. The Repulse was one of the ships belong...



The Battle Of Beachy Head






There was little to record to the honour of the navy in the reign of
James II. As Duke of York he had held the office of Lord High-admiral
for years, and he doubtless knew as much about the navy as any man of
his time. This knowledge he is said to have employed as soon as he came
into power to bring the navy into a state of efficiency, and yet, when
in November 1688 the Prince of Orange sailed for England, he was able to
effect his passage and land his army at Torbay without any opposition
from the fleet.

During the first year of the reign of William and Mary the navy did some
service in Ireland, Admiral Herbert engaging the French in Bantry Bay
without much success, and Commodore Rooke effecting the relief of
Londonderry. The former engagement was virtually a defeat for the
English, as the French effected their purpose by landing their supplies
and making good their retreat. William III., however, willing to put the
best possible construction upon the event, and desirous of conciliating
the navy, created Admiral Herbert Earl of Torrington, and knighted
Captains John Ashby and Cloudesley Shovel.

As to the remaining naval transactions of this year, they were neither
many nor great, but they included the taking of two celebrated
sea-officers of the French service, the Chevalier Fourbin and John du
Bart. These gentlemen commanded two small frigates, and had under their
convoy six rich merchantmen, homeward-bound. Near the Isle of Wight they
were chased by two of our fifty-gun ships, which they engaged very
bravely, though they saw that it was impossible for them to avoid being
taken. All they aimed at was to give their merchantmen time to escape,
and in this they succeeded; for, while they fought desperately, the
vessels under their convoy got safely into Rochelle. As for the
Chevalier Fourbin and Captain Bart, they were carried prisoners into
Plymouth, from whence not long after they found means to escape, and got
safely over to Calais. For this gallant and generous action the French
king rewarded each of them with the command of a man-of-war.

In 1690, however, the fleet was called upon to face a far more
formidable encounter. The French, who had for years been paying
increased attention to naval affairs, and who had made use of the recent
Dutch wars, first on one side and then on the other, to obtain knowledge
and experience of maritime affairs, now despatched their fleet with a
considerable body of troops to make a descent upon England in the
interests of James II., while the Jacobins in London made active
preparations for a simultaneous rising.

On June 12th the French fleet put to sea in three squadrons, each
squadron being divided into three divisions. Of these the white and blue
squadrons, commanded by Count d'Estrees, on board the Le Grand, a ship
of eighty-six guns, formed the vanguard, consisting of twenty-six
men-of-war. The main body was composed of the white squadron, which
consisted likewise of twenty-six sail, commanded by the Admiral Count
Tourville in the Royal Sun, a ship of one hundred guns; while the blue
squadron, commanded by M. d'Amfreville in the Magnificent, a ship of
eighty guns, comprised twenty-five sail and formed the rear-guard. In
all there were seventy-eight men-of-war and twenty-two fire-ships, and
the whole fleet carried upwards of four thousand seven hundred pieces of
cannon. On June the 13th they steered for the English coast, and on the
20th arrived off the Lizard. The next day the admiral took some English
fishing-boats; and, after having paid the people who were on board for
their fish, set them at liberty again. These men were the first to bring
the news of the arrival of the French fleet on our coast, while our own
fleet was lying idle in the Downs.

Under the arrangement of the conspirators the French fleet was to enter
the Thames, and the Jacobins in London were to rise, seize the queen and
her principal ministers, and proclaim James once more king, whereupon
James was to leave Ireland to the care of Lauzun and Tyrconnel, return
to England and take the head of the revolution, while the French landed
troops at Torbay and intercepted the return of William from Ireland.

The Earl of Torrington was at St. Helen's when he received the news of
the arrival of the French fleet, which must have surprised him very
much, since he was so far from expecting the French in that quarter that
he had no scouts to the westward. He put to sea, however, with such
ships as he had, and stood to the south-east, leaving orders that all
the English and Dutch ships which could have notice should follow him.
In the evening he was joined by several more ships, and the next morning
he found himself within sight of the enemy. The French landed and made
some prisoners on shore; and by them sent a letter from Sir William
Jennings, an officer in the navy, who had followed the fortunes of King
James and served now as third captain on board the admiral, promising
pardon to all such captains as would now adhere to that prince. The next
day Torrington received another reinforcement of seven Dutch men-of-war,
under the command of Admiral Evertzen, and for some time the English
fleet lay off Ventnor, while the French fleet stood off the Needles. It
is certain that the Earl of Torrington did not think himself strong
enough to venture on an engagement, and in all probability the rest of
the admirals agreed with him.

His whole strength consisted of about thirty-four men-of-war of several
sizes, and the three Dutch admirals had under their command twenty-two
large ships. Outnumbered by more than twenty sail it was perhaps but
natural that he should seek to avoid hostilities.

In London, where the Jacobin plot was known, the utmost excitement
prevailed. The rival fleets were known to be in sight of each other, and
it was clear that the English admiral was reluctant to engage. Under
these circumstances the queen, fearful of the consequences of continued
tension, by the advice of the privy council sent the earl orders to
fight at all costs and compel the French fleet to withdraw. In obedience
to this order, as soon as it was light, on June 30th, the admiral threw
out the signal for drawing into line and bore down upon the enemy, while
they were under sail, with their heads to the northward.

The signal for battle was made about eight, when the French braced their
head sails to their masts, in order to lie by. The action began about
nine, when the Dutch squadron, which made the van of the united fleets,
fell in with the van of the French, and put them into some disorder.
About half an hour after our blue squadron engaged their rear very
warmly; but the red, commanded by the Earl of Torrington in person,
which made the centre of our fleet, could not come up till about ten;
and this occasioned a great opening between them and the Dutch. The
French, making use of this advantage, weathered, and of course
surrounded the Dutch, who defended themselves very gallantly, though
they suffered extremely from so unequal a fight. The admiral, seeing
their distress, endeavoured to relieve them; and while they dropped
their anchors, the only method they had left to preserve themselves, he
drove with his own ship and several others between them and the enemy,
and in that situation anchored about five in the afternoon, when it grew
calm; but discerning how much the Dutch had suffered, and how little
probability there was of regaining anything by renewing the fight, he
weighed about nine at night, and retired eastward with the tide of
flood.

The next day it was resolved in a council of war, held in the afternoon,
to preserve the fleet by retreating, and rather to destroy the disabled
ships, if they should be pressed by the enemy, than to hazard another
engagement by endeavouring to protect them. This resolution was executed
with as much success as could be expected, which, however, was chiefly
owing to want of experience in the French admirals; for, by not
anchoring when the English did, they were driven to a great distance;
and, by continuing to chase in a line of battle, instead of leaving
every ship at liberty to do her utmost, they could never recover what
they lost by their first mistake. But, notwithstanding all this, they
pressed on their pursuit as far as Rye Bay; and forcing the Anne, of
seventy guns, which had lost all her masts, on shore near Winchelsea,
they sent in two ships to burn her, which the captain prevented by
setting fire to her himself. The body of the French fleet stood in and
out of the bays of Bourne and Pevensey, in Sussex, while about fourteen
of their ships anchored near the shore. Some of these attempted to burn
a Dutch ship of sixty-four guns, which at low water lay dry; but her
commander defended her so stoutly every high water, that they were at
length forced to desist, and the captain carried her safe into Holland.

Our loss in this unlucky affair, if we except reputation, was not so
great as might have been expected; not more than two ships, two sea
captains, two captains of marines, and three hundred and fifty private
men. The Dutch were much more unfortunate, because they were more
thoroughly engaged. Besides three ships sunk in the fight, they were
obliged to set fire to three more that were stranded on the coast of
Sussex, losing in all six ships of the line. They likewise lost many
gallant officers; particularly their rear-admirals, Dick and Brakel, and
Captain Nordel, with a great number of inferior officers and seamen.

After the engagement our fleet retreated towards the River Thames; and
the Earl of Torrington, going on shore, left the command to Sir John
Ashby. On July 8th the French fleet stood toward their own coast, but
were seen, upon the 27th, off the Berry Head, a little to the eastward
of Dartmouth, and then, the wind taking them short, they put into
Torbay. There they lay but a short time; for they were discovered on the
29th near Plymouth, at which place the necessary preparations were made
by platforms and other works to give them a warm reception. On August
5th they appeared again off the Rame Head, in number between sixty and
seventy, when, standing westward, they were no more seen in the Channel
during 1690.

The earl was tried by court martial on the charge of having from
treachery or cowardice misbehaved in his office, drawn dishonour on the
English nation and sacrificed our good allies the Dutch. He defended
himself with dignity and eloquence, affirming that he fought under
orders, against his own judgment and that of his staff, against superior
forces without any probability of success; that the Dutch suffered for
their own rashness, and that if he had sustained them in the manner they
expected, the whole fleet must have been surrounded and destroyed. In
the end the earl was acquitted, but the day after the trial he was
superseded.





Next: The Victory Of La Hogue

Previous: The Story Of The Third Dutch War



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