1805 - Captain Digby off Calais


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1805 British and French Fleets - Channel 310

instantly, the British cut their cables and made sail, to meet the Dutch admiral. At 9 h. 15 m. p.m. the Ariadne and one or two of her nearest companions opened their fire upon the flotilla ; and, notwithstanding the shallowness of the water, the obscurity of the night, and the incessant cannonade maintained, both by the prames and gun-vessels, and by the heavy batteries on the coast, the Ariadne and her consorts succeeded in driving three or four gun-vessels on shore, and in cutting away the mainmast and damaging the rigging of the Ville-de-Genève, the rearmost prame. With, however, such powerful support from the shore, and the aid of the long 24-pounders mounted by the prames, the bulk of the flotilla, at 11 h. 30 m. p.m., came to anchor in the road of Calais. The only British ship that appears to have sustained any injury was the Ariadne herself : she had one sergeant of marines mortally, one lieutenant of marines dangerously, and two seamen slightly wounded, and her rigging and sails a good deal cut. Some loss must undoubtedly have been incurred on the part of the flotilla, especially on board the Ville-de-Genève and stranded gun-vessels, but none has been recorded.

The noise of the firing had caused a great bustle among the shipping in the Downs ; and, soon after midnight, the 50-gun ship Trusty, Captain George Argles, 28-gun frigate Vestal, Captain Stephen Thomas Digby, and three ship-sloops, weighed and stood across towards Calais. On the 18th, at 4 a.m., the Vestal, outsailing the others, joined the Ariadne and squadron ; and in half an hour afterwards the British recommenced the action with the Dutch flotilla and the batteries in front of Calais. After a two hours' cannonade, in which the nines of the Vestal stood a very poor chance against the 36s and 24s of the forts and gun-vessels, the frigate, with a corporal of marines mortally wounded, made the signal to discontinue the action ; and, with her companions, bore away to the westward, where a spirited firing had just commenced, and whither the Trusty and sloops had already proceeded.

Will it be believed that the following passage refers to the Vestal and squadron ? " Il y fut attaqué le matin, avec aussi peu d'effet que la veille, par dix-neuf bâtimens, dont deux vaisseaux de ligne, onze frégates, et six bricks." * So also it stands, merely substituting " cinq frégates, six grandes corvettes," for " onze fregates, " in another French historical work. These and other similar statements were no doubt originally framed to exalt the flotilla in the opinion of the country, or to serve some such temporary purpose. How careful, then, ought the historian to be in compiling his materials; otherwise, he unknowingly

* Précis des Evènemens, tome xii., p. 44.

Victoires et Conquêtes, tome xvi., p. 77.

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