1804 - Lord Nelson and M. La Touche-Tréville


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1804 British and French Fleets - Mediterranean 238

At 5 p.m. the Amazon and Phœbe joined the vice-admiral ; at which time the French fleet, counted at 14 sail of ships, was standing off and on between Cape Sepet and the last-named island. At 6 p.m. the lee division again hove to for a short time. At 7 p.m. the Incorruptible, Sirène, and Furet joined their fleet ; which, having effected the apparent object of the sally, now stood back into port, and was followed, until well inside of Sepet, by Lord Nelson and his division.

This would have passed off as an occurrence of no moment, had not M. La Touche-Tréville thought proper to make it the subject of an official communication to his government. He admits having sent the two frigates and a brig-corvette to cruise in the bay of Hyères; as well as that he sailed out, with the whole of his fleet, to prevent their retreat from being cut off by a line-of-battle ship and two frigates detached by Lord Nelson. He states truly, that the latter, upon this, recalled his detached ships, but most untruly, that the British admiral " ran away. "

What Lord Nelson thought of the French admiral's exploit may be gathered from a letter which, on the 18th of June, he wrote to Sir John Acton: " Mons. La Touche came out on the 14th. I was off the Hières with five ships ; he had eight of the line and six frigates. In the evening he stood under Sepet again, and, I believe I may call it, we chased him into Toulon the morning of the 15th. I am satisfied he meant nothing beyond a gasconade ; but am confident, when he is ordered for any service, that he will risk falling in with us, and the event of a battle, to try and accomplish his orders. " * It was not until some weeks after the date of this letter that Lord Nelson saw a copy of the official one of M. La Touche. † The statement of the French admiral gave his lordship much more concern than it ought to have done ; so much indeed, that he transmitted a copy of the Victory's log to the admiralty. It was sufficient for M. La Touche that his assertion, taken in a larger sense than he had probably anticipated, that of having chased the British admiral with all the latter's 10 sail of the line present, gained credence in a quarter which immediately promoted him from " un grand officier de la légion d'honneur," to " un grand officier de l'empire," and conferred upon him, also, the lucrative appointment of " inspecteur des côtes de la Méditerranée."

Napoléon's letter, apprizing M. La Touche-Tréville of the manner in which he had rewarded his gallantry, is dated at Malmaison, the 2d of July, and contains some important directions relative to the proceedings of the Toulon fleet. The vice-admiral is informed, that two battalions of picked troops of the line consisting of 800 men each, have received orders to embark

* Clarke and M'Arthur, vol. ii., p. 372.

† For a transcript of the original letter, see Appendix No. 26.

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