1803 - Admiral Cornwallis off Brest


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1803 Admiral Cornwallis off Brest 177

afterwards ; and, had the declaration bore date in the preceding February, no one, acquainted with the avowed intentions of Buonaparte, could say it had issued a day too early. Simultaneously with the order for reprisals against French ships, issued one for detaining ships belonging to the Batavian republic, Holland being to all intents and purposes a province of France.

Convinced that the peace of the world is generally held by a thread, which the caprice of a minister may almost at any time break, we shall not puzzle ourselves, or the reader, with endeavouring to investigate the causes of the war which commenced in the year 1803, but shall plunge at once into the details of its operations ; such operations at least as lie within our province, those in which the navies of the several belligerents take a part.

On the 17th of May, at 7 p.m., Admiral the Honourable William Cornwallis, in whose able hands the command of the Channel fleet still remained, having his flag on board the Dreadnought 98, sailed from Cawsand bay, with a fleet of 10 sail of the line and frigates, to cruise off Ushant and watch the motions of the French ships in Brest harbour, five or six only of which were in a state to put to sea. Of the remaining 21 ships of the line which the port contained, some were fitting, others repairing, and three were still upon the stocks, but on the eve of being launched. Could, therefore, a greater force than 10 sail of the line have been sent to cruise off Brest, it would, in the divided state of the French navy, have been wholly unnecessary.

Owing to the very reduced state of the Batavian navy, which, including three or four ships in the ports of Spain, now consisted of not more than seven sail of the line and a few frigates in a serviceable state, three British ships were all that were required in the North Sea. Four or five others were in the Irish Channel ; about an equal number cruised to the southward of Brest ; and, of those remaining in Plymouth and Portsmouth, upwards of 20 were fitting for sea, as fast as the dearth of seamen, and unfortunate want of stores, would admit.

Although the watchfulness of Admiral Cornwallis, who, on the 9th of July, shifted his flag from the Dreadnought to the 112 gun-ship Ville-de-Paris, precluded any addition to the Brest fleet from without the port, two fine ships joined it from within. Both were launched on the same day, the 15th of August; one the Cassard 74, the other, the celebrated three-decker on hand since the year 1794, and which, under such highly-wrought feelings, was then ordered to be named the Vengeur, to commemorate the supposed martyrdom of the '74 of that name, captured and sunk in Lord Howe's action. *

* See vol. i., p, 174.

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