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In Indian Seas
Though the great achievements of large fleets are apt to monopolise
fame, it often happens in the story of our English navy that small
squadrons in out-of-the-way places show equal heroism in achieving less
important results. Of such services the following are illustrations.
Captain Forrest, of the Augusta, having sailed from Port Royal in
Jamaica, in 1758, proceeded to cruise off Cape Francis, a harbour in the
island of St. Domingo; he was accompanied by Captains Suckling and
Langdon, commanding the Dreadnought and Edinburgh. There lay at that
time, at the Cape, a French squadron of four ships of the line and three
stout frigates, which the French commodore, piqued at seeing the coast
insulted by Forrest's little squadron, reinforced with several
store-ships, which he mounted with cannon and supplied with seamen from
the merchant vessels and with soldiers from the garrison. Thus prepared,
he weighed anchor and stood out for sea. When Forrest perceived the
approach of the French ships, he called his two captains. "Gentlemen,"
said he, "you know our own strength and see that of the enemy. Shall we
give them battle?" Being answered in the affirmative, he bore down on
the French fleet, and between three and four in the afternoon came to
action. The French attacked with great impetuosity, and displayed
uncommon spirit in the sight of their own coast. But, after an
engagement of more than two hours, their commodore found his ship so
much shattered that he was obliged to make a signal for his frigates to
tow him out of the line. The rest of the squadron followed his example,
and availed themselves of the land breeze to escape in the night from
the three British ships, which were too much damaged in their sails and
rigging to pursue their victory.
Captain Forrest signalised his courage in this engagement; but he
displayed equal courage and still more uncommon conduct and sagacity in
a subsequent adventure near the western coast of Hispaniola. Having
received intelligence that there was a considerable French fleet at Port
au Prince, a harbour on that coast, ready to sail for Europe, he
proceeded from Jamaica to cruise between Hispaniola and the little
island Goave. He disguised his ship with tarpaulins, hoisted Dutch
colours, and, in order to avoid discovery, allowed several small vessels
to pass without giving them chase. The second day after his arrival in
these parts he perceived a fleet of seven sail steering to the westward.
He kept from them to prevent suspicion, but, at the approach of night,
pursued them with all the sail he could crowd. About ten in the evening
he came up with two vessels of the chase, one of which fired a gun and
the other sheered off. The ship which had fired no sooner discovered her
enemy than she submitted. Forrest manned her with thirty-five of his own
crew, and now perceiving eight sail to leeward, near the harbour of
Petit Goave, ordered them to stand for that place, and to intercept any
vessels that attempted to reach it. He himself, in the Augusta, sailed
directly for the French fleet, and, coming up with them by daybreak,
engaged them all by turns as he could bring his guns to bear. The
Solide, the Theodore, and the Marguerite returned his fire; but,
having soon struck their colours, they were immediately secured, and
then employed in taking the other vessels, of which none had the fortune
to escape. The nine sail, which, by this well-conducted stratagem, had
fallen into the power of one ship, and that even in the sight of their
own harbours, were safely conducted to Jamaica, where the sale of their
rich cargoes rewarded the merit of the captors.
While Forrest acquired wealth and glory by protecting the trade of
Jamaica, the vigilance of Captain Tyrrel secured the English navigation
to Antigua. In the month of March 1758 this enterprising and judicious
commander demolished a fort on the island of Martinico, and destroyed
four privateers riding under its protection. In November of the same
year, he, in his own ship, the Buckingham, of sixty-four guns,
accompanied by the Weazle sloop, commanded by Captain Boles,
discovered, between the islands of Guadaloupe and Montserrat, a fleet of
nineteen sail under convoy of the Florissant, a French man-of-war of
seventy-four guns, and two frigates of which the largest carried
thirty-eight, and the other twenty-six guns. Captain Tyrrel, regardless
of the great inequality of force, immediately gave chase in the
Buckingham; and the Weazle, running close to the enemy, received a
whole broadside from the Florissant. Though she sustained it without
much damage, Mr. Tyrrel ordered Captain Boles to keep aloof, as his
vessel could not be supposed to bear the shock of heavy metal; and he
alone prepared for the engagement. The Florissant, instead of lying to
for him, made a running fight with her stern chase, while the two
frigates annoyed the Buckingham in her pursuit. At length, however,
she came within pistol-shot of the Florissant, and poured in a
broadside which did great execution. The salutation was returned with
spirit and the battle became close and obstinate. Mr. Tyrrel, being
wounded, was obliged to leave the deck, and the command devolved upon
Mr. Marshall, his first lieutenant, who fell in the arms of victory. The
second lieutenant took the command, and finally silenced the enemy's
fire. On board the Florissant one hundred and eighty men were slain
and three hundred wounded. She was so much disabled in her hull that she
could hardly be kept afloat. The largest frigate received equal damage.
The Buckingham had only seven men killed and seventeen dangerously
wounded; she had suffered much, however, in her masts and rigging, which
was the only circumstance that prevented her from adding profit to glory
by making prizes of the French fleet under so powerful a convoy.
In the East Indies the French squadron was commanded by M. d'Ache, and
the English by Admiral Pocock, who had succeeded Admiral Watson. The
former was reinforced by a considerable armament under the command of
General Lally, an adventurer of Irish extraction in the French service.
The English admiral was also reinforced March 24th, 1758, by four ships
of the line; and, being soon after apprised of Lally's arrival, hoisted
his flag on board the Yarmouth, a ship of sixty-four guns, and sailed
in quest of the enemy. He made the height of Negapatam on March 28th,
and the day following discovered the enemy's fleet in the road of Fort
St. David. It consisted of eight ships of the line and a frigate, which
immediately stood out to sea and formed the line-of-battle. Pocock's
squadron consisted only of seven ships; with which he formed the line,
and, bearing down upon M. d'Ache, began the engagement. The French
commodore, having sustained a warm action for about two hours in which
one of his largest ships was disabled, sheered off with his whole fleet.
Being afterwards joined by two more ships of war, he again formed the
line-of-battle to leeward. Admiral Pocock, though his own ship and
several others were considerably damaged, and though three of his
captains had misbehaved in the engagement, prepared again for the
attack. But the manoeuvres of the French fleet seem to have been
intended merely to amuse him; for they neither showed lights nor gave
any signal in the night, and next morning the smallest trace of them
could not be observed.
Admiral Pocock made various attempts to bring the French squadron to a
second engagement. These, however, proved ineffectual till August 3rd,
when he perceived the enemy's fleet, consisting of eight ships of the
line and a frigate, standing to sea off the road of Pondicherry. They
would have gladly eluded his pursuit, but he obtained the weather-gauge,
and sailed down upon them in order of battle. As it was now impossible
to escape without coming to action the French prepared for the
engagement, and fired on the Elizabeth, which happened to be within
musket-shot of the ship in their van. But this spirited attack was not
seconded with equal perseverance. In little more than ten minutes after
Admiral Pocock had displayed the signal for battle, M. d'Ache set his
fore-sail, and bore away, maintaining a running fight in a very
irregular line for nearly an hour. The whole squadron immediately
followed his example; and at two o'clock they cut away their boats,
crowded sail and put before the wind. They escaped by favour of the
night into the road of Pondicherry; but their fleet was so much damaged
that, in the beginning of September, their commodore sailed for the Isle
of Bourbon in order to refit, thus leaving the English admiral, whose
squadron had always been inferior to that of the French in number of
ships and men as well as in weight of metal, sovereign of the Indian
In the glorious '59 the French fleet, under M. d'Ache, was augmented to
eleven sail of the line, besides frigates and store-ships, an armament
hitherto unknown in the Indian seas. The English commander, however, no
sooner had intelligence of their arrival than he sailed to the coast of
Coromandel, and determined to pursue and give them battle,
notwithstanding the fact that the French had a superiority of one
hundred and ninety-two guns and two thousand three hundred and
sixty-five men, besides a great advantage in the size of their ships. On
the morning of September 2nd the French fleet were descried from the
mast-head. Admiral Pocock immediately threw out the signal for a general
chase; but, the wind abating, he could not approach near enough to
engage, though he crowded all the sail he could carry. At length they
totally disappeared, and the admiral stood for Pondicherry on a
supposition that they intended to sail thither. His conjecture was well
founded; for on September 8th he observed them standing to the
southward, and on the 10th, about two in the afternoon, M. d'Ache,
seeing no possibility of escaping, made the signal for battle. The
cannonading began without farther delay, and both squadrons engaged with
equal impetuosity; but the French directing their cannon at the masts
and rigging, while the English fired only at the hulls of the ships, the
former sustained such a loss of men, and found their vessels in so
shattered a condition that they were glad to sheer off with all their
canvas set. The loss on the side of the English was not inconsiderable,
there being five hundred and sixty-nine men killed and wounded; that on
the side of the French must have been far greater, as their ships could
hardly keep the sea, and they were obliged to make the best of their way
to the Island of Mauritius in order to be refitted. Soon after this
engagement Admiral Cornish arrived from England with four ships of the
line, and confirmed the dominion of the English over the Indian seas.
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