1803 - Capture of Clorinde


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1803 Commodore Loring at St.-Domingo 209

death that awaited them, either by perishing in the ship, or by being massacred, as was the execrable practice, on the shore ; feeling it to be almost a stigma upon the character of the British navy not to make an effort to save human beings, political enemies especially, so critically circumstanced, Lieutenant Willoughby took upon himself the whole responsibility, and put back with his launch towards the grounded ship.

Finding, as he approached the Clorinde, that her side was crowded with men ready to spring into the first boat which came alongside, and knowing that his people, as well as those who entered the launch from the ship, would fall an immediate sacrifice, the lieutenant searched for, and with difficulty procured, a small punt. In this he embarked, directing the launch to lay off, and was soon on board the frigate ; which he found heeling much and beating heavily. Despairing now of saving the ship, Lieutenant Willoughby yet resolved to put in practice every resource to save her numerous crew. As the most feasible plan which suggested itself, the lieutenant represented to General Lapoype that, as by the terms of the capitulation the French vessels of war were to haul down their colours when outside the harbour, it would not be a greater sacrifice of national honour, considering the situation of the Clorinde, if he did so immediately, and gave the frigate up to him. Lieutenant Willoughby would then, he said, hoist English colours, wait upon General Dessalines, and demand, not only that the British flag should be respected, but that, if assistance could not be procured from the shore, and the Clorinde should be lost in the night then fast approaching, the crew and passengers should be considered as prisoners to the British, and be protected until the commanding officer of the squadron had it in his power to send for them.

General Lapoype readily assenting to the terms proposed, the French flag was hauled down, and replaced by the British flag; and Lieutenant Willoughby immediately hailed the Haytian officer in command of Fort St.-Joseph, and expressed a wish to wait upon General Dessalines. Permission was granted, and Lieutenant Willoughby, after experiencing some difficulty in landing, obtained an interview with the Haytian general ; who not only received the British lieutenant with great urbanity, but promised all that he requested. With the assistance thus obtained, and that of two or three more boats which had just joined from the squadron, and favoured by a sudden fall in the wind, Lieutenant Willoughby succeeded in heaving the Clorinde off the rocks. Thus, " to the uncommon exertions and professional abilities," as Rear-admiral Duckworth happily expresses it, of Acting-lieutenant Willoughby, was owing the preservation of more than 900 people's lives, and the acquisition to the British navy of a frigate which, with her late consort, the Surveillante, continued, for many years afterwards, to be one of the finest ships of the 38-gun class.

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