Defeat Of The Spanish Fleet In The Faro Off Messina


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
ould 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


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.


"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.,


"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.