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.