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The Story Of Lord Rodney






BY JOHN CAMPBELL.


George Brydges Rodney was born at Walton-on-Thames in the year 1718. His
father, Henry Rodney, was at the time of his son's birth commander of
the yacht in which the king, attended by the Duke of Chandos, used to
pass to and from Hanover; hence he was christened George and Brydges
after the king and the duke, who stood godfathers to him. He entered the
navy at fourteen years of age, and obtained command of a ship at
twenty-four. He was made governor of Newfoundland in 1749, and in 1759
admiral of the blue. This same year he distinguished himself by
destroying the stores prepared for the invasion of England at Havre de
Grace. In 1761 he served in the West Indies and was made a baronet. In
1768 he was elected member of parliament for Northampton; but the cost
of his election ruined him and he was obliged to seek a temporary asylum
on the Continent. While here he received overtures from the French
government, which he rejected; upon which the English government gave
him command of the Mediterranean squadron. The two principal victories
of his life were gained over the Spanish and French fleets in 1780 and
1782, in connection with his appointment to the West Indian squadron.

There were two naval objects which demanded the attention of the
ministry at the commencement of the year 1780, the relief of Gibraltar
and the protection of the West Indies. To secure both these Admiral
Rodney was appointed to command a fleet in the West Indies, and en
route to convoy a large supply of provisions and stores to Gibraltar.
The admiral had been but a very few days at sea when he fell in with a
Spanish fleet, bound from St. Sebastian to Cadiz: it consisted of
fifteen sail of merchantmen under the protection of a fine new
sixty-four gun ship, four frigates, mounting from twenty-six to
thirty-two guns, and two smaller vessels; these ships of war belonged to
the Royal Company of the Caraccas, and had been assigned to the others
as a convoy. The whole fleet were captured; and on examining the cargoes
of the merchantmen, the capture was ascertained to be extremely
fortunate, as the greater part of them were laden with wheat, flour, and
other stores, which the admiral of course destined for Gibraltar. On
January 16th, about a week after this capture, he fell in with another
Spanish squadron, consisting of eleven ships of the line, under the
command of Don Juan Langara, off Cape St. Vincent. As the Spaniards,
being inferior in force and favoured by the wind, endeavoured to escape,
the British admiral changed the signal for a line of battle abreast to
that for a general chase, with orders to engage as the ships came up.
Night came on, but the pursuit was still continued, though the dangers
of a dark and tempestuous night were increased by the vicinity of the
shoals of St. Lucar. About four o'clock the headmost ships began to
engage. Early in the action the Spanish ship St. Domingo, of seventy
guns and seven hundred men, blew up, and all on board perished; the
English ship opposed to her nearly suffering the same fate. The
engagement did not terminate till two in the morning, when the
Monarca, the headmost of the enemy's fleet, struck to the Sandwich,
Admiral Rodney's own ship. Three others were also taken and carried
safely into port; among these was the Phoenix, of eighty guns, Don
Langara's ship. Two others had struck, but after the officers had been
taken out, they were driven on shore by the tempestuous weather, and one
of them was entirely lost. Two frigates and four ships of the line
escaped; of the latter, two were much damaged in the action. Our loss
amounted to thirty-two killed and one hundred and two wounded.

The convoy having been conducted safely to Gibraltar, and the
provisions and stores having been landed there, Admiral Digby, taking
under his charge the Spanish prizes and homeward bound transports,
sailed for England on February 15th, 1780; and Admiral Rodney, with the
remainder, proceeded to his station in the West Indies.

The great object of the French and Spanish forces in the West Islands at
this time was the reduction of Jamaica. Hitherto foiled in attaining
this object, they were in great hopes of being more successful in 1782.
In order to frustrate their design, soon after his arrival in England,
in the fall of the year 1781, Admiral Rodney was sent back to resume his
command in the West Indies, with a reinforcement of twelve sail of the
line. He sailed from the Channel in the month of January, 1782, and
arrived off the island of Barbadoes on the 19th of the following month.
Having formed a junction with Sir Samuel Hood he resolved to proceed
with his whole fleet to St. Lucia; the most convenient station for
watching the motions of the enemy. As soon as he arrived off this island
he ordered some of his frigates to cruise, for the purpose of giving him
the earliest intelligence of the movements of the enemy; and in the
meantime took on board provisions and water sufficient to last him for
five months.

The first object which Admiral Rodney had in view was to prevent, if
possible, the junction of the French and Spanish fleets, as he had
reason to believe that, if this junction were effected, Jamaica would
fall a prey to the enemy. The Spanish fleet at this time were to leeward
of the French.

On April 5th Admiral Rodney was informed that the French were embarking
troops on board their ships of war; and on the 8th of the same month, at
break of day, a signal was made from the Andromache that their fleet
was coming out of Fort Royal and standing to the north-west. Admiral
Rodney immediately made the necessary signal for weighing anchor and
getting under weigh, and this was obeyed with so much promptitude and
alacrity that the whole British fleet, consisting of thirty-six sail of
the line, was clear off Grosislet Bay before noon. They proceeded, under
as much sail as they could carry, in pursuit of the enemy, so that
before daylight the next morning the French fleet was discovered under
the island of Dominica. At this time both fleets were becalmed; the
enemy got the breeze first, and taking advantage of it stood towards
Guadaloupe. The breeze next favoured the van of the English fleet, under
the command of Sir Samuel Hood, who stood after them with a press of
sail; all this while the rear and the centre of Admiral Rodney's fleet
were still becalmed. This circumstance, which to all appearance was
unfavourable to the English, proved in the issue highly advantageous to
them; for the Count de Grasse, who had determined to avoid an
engagement, and to press forward in order to effect a junction with the
Spanish fleet, perceiving the van of the English at a distance from, and
unsupported by, the rear and centre, was tempted to engage; so as soon
as Sir Samuel Hood's division came near enough the Count de Grasse bore
down upon him with his whole force. Sir Samuel Hood was not dispirited;
though at one period of this very unequal engagement his own ship, the
Barfleur, had seven of the enemy's ships firing upon her, and during
the greatest part of the action not less than three. The example of the
Barfleur was followed by all the rest of the division, so that no
advantage could be obtained over them. At length part of the centre got
near enough to engage; and the breeze soon afterwards reaching the rear
of the British fleet, the Count de Grasse withdrew his ships, and having
the advantage of the wind was enabled to decline any further contest,
notwithstanding all the endeavours of Admiral Rodney to continue it.
During this partial engagement the Royal Oak and the Montague, the
leading ships of the van, sustained considerable damage. Captain Boyne
of the Alfred was killed. Two of the French ships were so disabled as
to be obliged to take shelter in Guadaloupe.

The British fleet lay to all the night after the action for the purpose
of repairing their damages, but the next morning made sail to the
windward in pursuit of the enemy. But the pursuit seemed in vain, for on
the morning of the 11th the French fleet had got so far to windward
that some of their ships were scarcely visible.

About noon on April 11th one of the enemy's ships was seen in a disabled
state, a great way to windward; Admiral Rodney now entertained hopes
that he should either be able to capture her or to bring on a general
engagement, if the Count de Grasse bore down to her support; he
therefore ordered a general chase. Towards evening, one of the leading
ships of the British approached so near the disabled ship of the enemy,
that her capture was inevitable if she were not assisted. The Count de
Grasse, perceiving her danger, bore down with his whole fleet for her
protection. Admiral Rodney had now gained his object; for by nightfall
the two fleets were very near each other: it was necessary, however, to
put off the engagement till the next day, April 12th. Still, however, as
during the night the French admiral might have drawn off his fleet,
Admiral Rodney took such measures as effectually prevented this from
taking place; so that when daylight broke he had the satisfaction to
perceive that the Count de Grasse, even if so inclined, could not avoid
a general engagement. The action was begun about half-past seven in the
morning of the 12th by Captain Penny, of the Marlborough, the leading
ship of the British van. The two fleets met on opposite tacks; the
British ranging slowly along--there being but little wind--and close
under the lee of the enemy's line, continuing a most tremendous fire,
which the French received and returned with the utmost firmness. About
noon, Sir George Rodney in the Formidable, having passed the Ville de
Paris, the French admiral's ship, and her second--and during her
passage directing against them a most tremendous and effective
fire--stood athwart the line of the enemy, between the second and third
ship astern of the Ville de Paris; she was immediately followed and
supported by the Duke, Namur, and Canada; and the rest imitated
their example. As soon as the Formidable had broken the line she wore
round; and a signal being made for the van division to tack, the British
fleet thus gained the wind and stood upon the same tack with the enemy.
By this bold and masterly manoeuvre the French line was completely
broken and the whole thrown into confusion; the consequences were
decisively advantageous and glorious to the British; for though the
enemy still continued to fight with great gallantry, it was evident that
the victory was with Admiral Rodney. The action hitherto had been
chiefly supported by the van and centre of the British; for the rear
under Sir Samuel Hood being becalmed, did not for some time get into the
engagement; and when the breeze did spring up, it was so trifling that
Sir Samuel Hood, in the Barfleur, took an hour and a half to reach
that part of the enemy's line where it had been broken through by the
Formidable. During all this time, however, he kept up a tremendous and
well-directed fire.

As the French ships always carry a much larger complement of men than
the British, and as, moreover, at this time they had on board a great
number of troops, the carnage was extreme; notwithstanding this,
however, and the certainty that they must ultimately be beaten, the
Count de Grasse in the Ville de Paris and the other ships in the
centre, withstood till the evening all the efforts of the various ships
that attacked him. Nor was the gallantry of the British inferior to that
of the French. Captain Cornwallis, of the Canada, especially
distinguished himself; for, having obliged the Hector, a ship of the
same force as his own, to strike her colours, he did not lose time by
taking possession of her, but leaving her in charge of a frigate pushed
on to the Ville de Paris, which he engaged for the space of two hours,
notwithstanding her great superiority, and left her a complete wreck.
The Count de Grasse, however, refused to surrender; and as it was
supposed that he would not yield to any vessel that did not carry an
admiral's flag, towards sunset Sir Samuel Hood poured from the
Barfleur a most dreadful fire into the Ville de Paris. The Count de
Grasse bore it for about ten minutes, when he surrendered: at this time
there were only three men alive and unhurt on the upper deck, and of
this number the count himself was one. Besides the Ville de Paris and
the Hector, the Ardent, of sixty-four guns, which had been captured
in the British Channel, was re-taken; the Caesar and the Glorieux, of
seventy-four guns each, also surrendered after they were made complete
wrecks. The Diadem, early in the engagement, bore up to assist in
protecting the Ville de Paris from the Formidable, but by a single
broadside from the latter she was sunk.

Night, which must have been ardently wished for by the French, now came
on; when the British admiral made the signal for his fleet to bring to,
in order that he might secure his prizes. In the course of this night
the Caesar, one of the prizes, blew up by accident; and a British
lieutenant and fifty seamen, with about four hundred prisoners,
perished.

The Ville de Paris was the most important of the prizes; she was the
largest ship in the French king's service. She had been a present from
the city of Paris to Louis XV., and no expense had been spared to render
the gift worthy of the city and of the monarch; the expense of building
her and fitting her for sea is said to have been one hundred and
fifty-six thousand pounds. On board of her there were, at the time of
her capture, thirty-six chests of money, intended for the pay and
subsistence of the men who were to have been employed in the expedition
against Jamaica: in the other captured ships the whole train of
artillery and the battering cannon, and travelling carriages meant for
that expedition, were also found.

The loss of men in the British fleet in both actions, on April the 9th
and 12th, was very small, amounting only to two hundred and thirty-seven
killed and seven hundred and seventy-six wounded. The loss of the French
is computed to have been three thousand slain and more than double that
number wounded. In the Ville de Paris alone upwards of three hundred
men were killed; and several other of the captured ships lost between
two or three hundred.

Two sail of the line and three frigates were captured the following day,
so that the total loss of the enemy amounted to eight sail of the line
and two frigates; six of which were in possession of the British, one
sunk and another blown up. The Count de Grasse was sent prisoner to
England.

After his success, Sir Samuel Hood joined Admiral Rodney, who proceeded
to Jamaica with his prizes; leaving Sir Samuel with twenty-five sail of
the line to keep the sea and watch the motions of the enemy.

Admiral Pigot, having arrived from England to succeed Sir George Rodney
on the West India station, the latter sailed from Jamaica in the
beginning of August. The news of his victory gave great and universal
joy in Great Britain, and the admiral was created an English peer, and a
pension of L2,000 a year was conferred upon him. Sir Samuel Hood was
created an Irish peer.

Lord Rodney died in 1792, and a memorial was erected to his memory in
St. Paul's Cathedral by public subscription.


THE NORE. (See page 361.)]





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