1794 - Colonial Expeditions, West Indies


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol I


Colonial Expeditions - West Indies


North America affording, this year, no occurrences of a nature to be noticed in these pages, we pass at once to the West Indies, where plans of magnitude and importance were on the eve of being brought into activity. In the latter end of January Vice-admiral Sir John Jervis, K.B.,* in the Boyne, arrived at

* Invested with this honour, May 29, 1782, for having, says the author of the " Royal Naval Biography," fought one of the most brilliant actions which had occurred during the American war ; namely, the capture of the Pégase, of 74 guns and 700 men, commanded by the Chevalier de Cillart. A part, and no inconsiderable part, of the plan of this work being to free historical statements from the dross of fiction, we may be allowed to step back a little, for the purpose of reducing Mr. Marshall's high-flown biographical, into plain matter-of-fact language. In April, 1782, the Foudroyant, a ship (formerly French) mounting 80 guns, 24-pounders on the main deck, manned with 700 men, and justly pronounced to be "one of the finest two-decked ships belonging to the British navy," was commanded by Captain John Jervis, and formed one of a fleet of 12 sail of the line and four frigates, under Vice-admiral Barrington, cruising in the Bay of Biscay. On the 20th, off Ushant, a fleet was discovered, consisting of an outward-bound East India convoy of 14 vessels, which had sailed from Brest the day before, under the protection of the two French 74gun ships, Protecteur, Captain le Comte de Soulanges, and Pégase, Captain de Sillans, a frigate, and a 64 en flute ; and the vessels of which convoy, on discovering their danger, dispersed. The Foudroyant's superiority of sailing soon gave her the lead in the chase of one of the French 74s, the Pégase ; and at dark the British 80 lost sight of her own fleet. At a little before 1 a.m. on the 21st the Foudroyant ran alongside of the Pégase and after an hour's fierce action, in which the latter had 80 men killed and wounded, and the Foudroyant none killed and very few wounded, the French ship hauled down her colours. "At this time," says Mr. M., " the sea was so rough, that it was with great difficulty Captain Jervis, with the loss of two boats, could put an officer and 80 men on board the prize. Soon after this was effected, the Foudroyant lost sight of the Pégase ; but the Queen, fortunately coming up, took possession of her. In consequence of this gallant action, Captain Jervis was honoured with the insignia of a knight of the bath. " Marshall, vol. i., p. 16.

The writer of this article admits that the action lasted an hour at close quarters, and yet is surprised that the Pégase " considering the short time she was engaged," should have suffered so much. He adds, " Nothing could have afforded a more remarkable instance of the decided superiority of seamanship and discipline on the one side, and of the great effects which those qualifications produced on the other, than the circumstance of this gallant action." Does the writer, who avows himself a naval man, make no allowance for the difference in size and force between the two ships, one of which, as measuring 1977 tons, must have felt rather less inconvenience in action from the "rough sea," than the other, that was of no more than 1778 tons ? Even had the Foudroyant been a 74 like the Pégase, the former, to use the words of her own captain, when on a subsequent occasion he gave an opinion upon the merits of the action between the Mars and Hercule, was, "an old commissioned, well-practised ship," with a crew inured to battle (the Foudroyant was Admiral Keppel's second in the action with M. d'Orvilliers, fought July 27, 1788 1778); while the Pégase was just out of port, with her decks, as is too frequently the case with French ships, lumbered with stores for her long voyage. As M. de Sillans (not " Cillart") was evidently not un "chevalier" at the time of his capture by the Foudroyant, he probably was raised to that honour for his gallant defence of the Pégase.

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