1801 - Capture of the Swiftsure


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1801 British and French Fleets - Mediterranean 94

or some of the advanced ships belonging to it, hove in sight to the eastward. The French admiral immediately cut his cables, and crowded sail from the coast ; leaving two of his store-ships, which could not keep up with him, to be captured by the British 28-gun frigate Vestal, and one or two smaller vessels, then far ahead of their companions.

On the 24th, at 3 h. 30 m. a.m., Cape Derna on the coast of Barbary bearing south-west distant about seven leagues, the British 74-gun ship Swiftsure, Captain Benjamin Hallowell, then, with the wind at north-west, steering towards the island of Malta, to reinforce the squadron under Rear-admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, discovered the squadron of M. Ganteaume hull-down to leeward. From previous information Captain Hallowell concluded that the ships were those of M. Ganteaume, and made all sail to escape. At 5 h. 30 m. the Jean-Bart and Constitution, by signal from the admiral, tacked and stood on until they fetched into the Swiftsure's wake. At 8 a.m., the remaining three French ships, having fore-reached considerably, tacked also, until they arrived upon the lee quarter of the Swiftsure, when they tacked again.

Such was the very superior sailing of the French ships, that by 2 P.M. the Indivisible, Dix-Août, and Créole, had arrived nearly within gun-shot. Observing that the ships astern were also fast coming up, Captain Hallowell determined to bear down and engage the three nearest, in the hope to disable one of them, and effect his escape to leeward. Accordingly, at 3 p.m., the Swiftsure bore down under all sail, steering to pass astern of the rearmost of the three French ships ; whereupon all of the latter tacked and stood towards her. In half an hour the Indivisible and Dix-Août, standing on in close order, opened their fire within half gun-shot, and, by their superior rate of sailing, baffled every effort of the Swiftsure to get to leeward. In this way the action was maintained until 4 h. 37 m. p.m. ; when, the Constitution and Jean-Bart being within gun-shot on the Swiftsure's starboard quarter, and closing fast, the Indivisible almost on board of her on the larboard bow, and the Dix-Août as near on the larboard quarter, the British ship struck her colours.

The masts, yards, rigging, and sails of the Swiftsure, were completely cut to pieces ; but, it having been the principal object of the French to dismantle the ship, her loss, out of a crew at quarters, owing to 59 being sick and 86 of her best men having been taken from her by Lord Keith, of not more than 450 men and boys, amounted to only two men killed, and one lieutenant (Lewis Davis) and seven men wounded, two of them mortally. That the Swiftsure did not act quite so tenderly towards her antagonists, appears by the French admiral's return of loss ; according to which, the Indivisible had four men killed and wounded, and the Dix-Août, six men killed and 23

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