1799 - Capture of M. Perrée's squadron


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol II
1799 Pursuit of the French-fleet 265

This reinforcement, when it quitted the Channel fleet, consisted of 16 sail of the line, under Admiral Sir Alan Gardner ; but the latter, taking with him the Royal-Sovereign, Cæsar, Magnificent, and Russel, had put into the Tagus, to escort home the Lisbon convoy, and the Nile prizes.

While a part of Lord Keith's fleet, now augmented to 31 sail of the line, four frigates, and two or three smaller vessels, lay off and on Port-Mahon, the remaining ships, including the Queen Charlotte, anchored in the harbour to get a supply of water. Scarcely had the vice-admiral been an hour at his anchorage, ere intelligence arrived of the junction of which he had been forewarned. All was now bustle in the port ; and on the 10th Lord Keith weighed and set sail for the Straits, having previously sent an order to Rear-admiral Nelson, at Palermo, to detach a part of his force for the protection of Minorca. On the 26th, the British fleet anchored in Tetuan bay, to get, what the ships had only partially procured at Mahon, a supply of water, and on the 29th, reached Gibraltar ; just three weeks after the French and Spanish fleets had passed the rock on their way to Cadiz. Even the two French 74s left repairing at Toulon, had since followed the combined fleets out of the Mediterranean.

With such limited means as we possess, it is not easy to say how it happened, first, that the Spanish fleet, scattered and discomfited by a gale, was suffered to enter Carthagena ; and next, that the French fleet, although it spent nearly four weeks in twice traversing that small portion of the Mediterranean which divides Genoa from Carthagena, was missed by a British fleet cruising on the same seas. Not a jot of information on the subject appears in a work in which, from its title and the relation that subsisted between its author and Earl St.-Vincent, a solution of the difficulty might reasonably be expected.

To show that this writer's account of the proceedings of the British fleet after it had arrived at Gibraltar from Cadiz, brief as it is, contains many mistatements, we have only to subjoin an extract. "Here, with all the zeal and vigilance of Earl St:-Vincent and the anxiety of every officer to forward the work ; it took five days," that is, from 9 a.m. on the 10th, to 11 a.m. on the 11th, " before the provision and water could be completed, and the ships sufficiently repaired to follow the enemy ; when the Earl of St: Vincent hoisted his flag on board the Ville de Paris, and taking Lord Keith under his orders, made all sail for Cape Dell Mell. At this place (see p. 262) he received intelligence, that the enemy had anchored in Vado-bay ; but his lordship, having every reason to think that the Spaniards meditated an attack on Minorca, went to Mahon, and ordered Lord Keith to cruise off the island, the Spaniards having collected a large body of troops at Majorca." *

* Brenton, vol. ii., p. 476. .

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