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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