1800 - Cutting out the Désirée


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1800 Boat Attack at Noirmoutier 41

Having assembled on board the Fisgard, the boats pulled off in the evening, in three divisions, containing between them 192 officers, seamen, and marines, under the orders of Lieutenant Burke, assisted by Lieutenants of marines John Thompson and Charles Henry Ballinghall, of the Renown, Lieutenant William Dean, and lieutenants of marines Mark A. Gerard, of the Fisgard, and William Garrett and Hugh Hutton, of the Defence. At midnight the British in the boats boarded, and, after much resistance and loss on the part of the French, carried the ship and the three other armed vessels, together with 15 sail of merchantmen ; all, as well as the armed vessels, laden with flour, corn, provisions, bale-goods, and ship-timber, for the fleet at Brest. Finding it impossible to bring off his prizes, Lieutenant Burke caused them to be effectually destroyed.

In high glee at having performed this essential service without any loss, the British now proceeded on their return; but unfortunately, in attempting to pass over the sand-banks, the boats took the ground, and in less than ten minutes, lay perfectly dry. In this helpless situation, Lieutenant Burke and his party became exposed to a continual fire from the forts on Noirmoutier island, and from about 400 French soldiers. Notwithstanding so formidable an opposition, the British commenced an attack upon some other vessels afloat near them, in the hope to secure one sufficiently large to carry them all off: This they accomplished, and, with great intrepidity and exertion, drew her upwards of two miles over the sands, until she floated; by which time the men were nearly up to their necks in water. It appears that 92 officers, seamen, and marines (several of them, including Lieutenants Burke, Thompson, and Ballinghall, wounded) were now taken prisoners; but that the remainder of the party, numbering in all 100, forced the French to retreat, and then got back to their ships by means of the boats they had taken. This was a very gallant, and, but for the latter half of it, would have been a very successful and important, boat-service.

On the 27th of June a British squadron, composed of the 12-pounder 32-gun frigate Andromeda, Captain Henry Inman, 28-gun frigate Nemesis, Captain Thomas Baker, one 20-gun ship, two ship-sloops, one bomb-vessel, and 11 fire-ships, gun-brigs, hired cutters, and luggers, assembled off Dunkerque, to attempt the destruction of the four French frigates, Poursuivante, of the 44-gun or 24-pounder class, Carmagnole, of the 40-gun, and Désirée and Incorruptible, of the 38-gun class; and which four frigates had long been blockaded in that port.

Contrary winds and a succession of unfavourable tides afforded no opportunity of making the attack until the 7th of July. On that evening the ship-sloop Dart (sister vessel to the Arrow already described*), Captain Patrick Campbell, followed

" See vol. ii., p. 344 ; but the Dart appears to have mounted two additional carronades on her quarterdeck, or 30 in all.

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