1794 - Reorganization of the Brest fleet


 
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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol I

1794

British and French Fleets

124

manner. Notwithstanding this highly insulting decree, it is but justice to the French officers to declare, that they never appear to have required to be thus stimulated to do their duty.

With respect to the newly-organized French seamen, their valour was to be roused into action by less rigorous means. The report of a citizen Thibaudot was made the subject of a decree of the National Convention, and, under the designation of "Instructions to the sailors of the French republic," was transmitted to the different seaport towns. These instructions contained, for the most part, fabulous accounts of the exploits of the French navy in former days ; days so remote, that the memory of no man could reach them, and the events of which, for that reason, were supposed to be unknown to the illiterate sailor. "Have not French sailors," it was asked," acquired the habit of courage and victory ? Often have they conquered with an inferior force; and if, sometimes, their enemies have gained the advantage, it has been owing to their superiority in number of ships and of men. It is a homage which truth has extorted from the admirals of the proudest maritime nation. Admiral Byng said in his defence, `I defy any one to produce me a single example, where the English have conquered on the sea with an equal force.' "

This libel upon a brave but unfortunate officer requires to be refuted. Admiral Byng, after having stated that the French fleet opposed to him was superior in the size of their ships, weight of metal, and number of men, besides their advantage in point of sailing, which enabled them to fight, or avoid fighting, as best suited their purpose, adds:- " I do not plead the superiority of the enemy as a reason for not attacking them, but only why such an attempt might, not only possibly, but most probably, be unsuccessful; since it is evident that, notwithstanding my previous information of their strength, I did not hesitate to attack, and do the utmost in my power to defeat them." This is the only passage in the admiral's defence that bears at all on the point ; and surely no one but citizen Thibaudot could have perverted its meaning.

These addresses being read by the chief officers to the different ships' companies, their effects were soon manifest in the eagerness of the seamen to be led against their ancient foe, in order to prove, by their prowess, that they merited the eulogiums which their masters had so liberally bestowed upon them. Old

* Moniteurs of Nov. 5, 1793, Jan. 12, and Feb. 5, 1794.

"Je défie qu'on me cite on seul exemple où les Anglais aient vaincu sur mer à force égale."- Mon. Feb. 5, 1794.

Shot on board the Monarch in Portsmouth Harbour, March 14, 1757, by the sentence of a court-martial, for an error in judgment (having been acquitted of cowardice or disaffection), in an engagement with a French fleet, off Minorca, May 20, 1756.

See " Trial of Admiral the Hon. John Byng; published by order of the Admiralty;" p. 101.

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