1804 - Catamaran expedition


Next Page

Previous Page
Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1804 Invasion Flotilla 231

the batteries had not permitted to be materially damaged, bore up for the road of Boulogne. On the two succeeding days some slight skirmishes also took place, but nothing decisive could be effected on account of the French batteries; nor was any injury done to the British vessels, beyond a wound in the Bruiser's bowsprit.

It is singular that the same French writer, who tells us of the immense advantage which a host of these gun-vessels derived from the gun and mortar batteries along the coast, should cite the engagement or skirmish of the 26th of August, as " une des plus fortes épreuves de l'effet réciproque du feu des petits bâtimens de flotille opposés à une ligne de vaisseaux et frégates d'un rang très-supérieur." * The writer should have stopped until a case occurred where a score or so of these gun-vessels, having got beyond the reach of their protectors, suddenly found themselves, in a fine commanding breeze, close to leeward of a single British frigate, of the Immortalité for instance. How many of them, does he think, would escape capture or destruction ? None, provided the frigate stayed not to pick up the drowning crews of those she crushed by her stem, or sank by her broadsides ; and provided those vessels, that hauled down their flags to save themselves from the fate of their companions, did not treacherously re-hoist them, because the frigate was too much occupied to send a boat to take possession. None knew this better than Napoléon. The affair of the 26th of August, of which he had unintentionally been an eye-witness, convinced him. He did not say so, it is true: it was not his policy. Within the short space of little more than five weeks, the French emperor had witnessed, both what the Channel gales and the Channel cruisers would do with his flotilla, if it fell in the way of either.

Towards the latter end of the summer a plan was submitted to, and received the sanction of the British government, for destroying such vessels of the Invasion Flotilla, as should moor in any of the open roads along the French Channel-coast. This desirable object was to be attained chiefly by means of a novel or rather, of a revived species of fire-vessel of a very peculiar description. It consisted of a coffer of about 21 feet long, and three and a quarter broad, resembling in appearance a log of mahogany, except that its extremities were formed like a wedge. Its covering was of thick plank, lined with lead, calked and tarred. Outside this was a coat of canvass, paid over with hot pitch. The vessel weighed, when filled (done of course before the covering is wholly put on), about two tons. The content consisted, besides the apparatus, of as much ballast as would just keep the upper surface of the deck of the coffer even with the water's edge. Amidst a quantity of powder (about 40

* Précis des Evènemens, tome xi., p 45.

^ back to top ^