1805 - Lord Nelson's arrival in Egypt, Return of French fleet to Toulon


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1805 Lord Nelson and M. Villeneuve 325

Having sent in all directions to gain information, but without effect, Lord Nelson continued his course to the eastward, and at 3 a.m. on the 29th, rounded the island of Stromboli. As a proof that, in his anxiety to overtake the enemy, Lord Nelson had passed a sleepless night, the following memorandum appears is his diary : " Stromboli burnt very strongly throughout the night of the 28th." His own persuasion was that the French fleet had gone to Egypt ; and thither his lordship hastened, still detaching his frigates, as fast as they joined, to gather what tidings they could.

On the 4th of February, the Canopus made the land of Egypt. On the 7th, the Tigre was sent into Alexandria ; but the Turks had nothing to communicate, and on the following day, the 8th, Captain Hallowell rejoined the fleet. Lord Nelson, now half distracted, steered for Malta ; on the 14th, was within 100 leagues of it ; and in a few days afterwards received from Naples intelligence of what had really become of the French fleet. It had, on the second day, after quitting Toulon, when crossing the gulf of Lyons, encountered a violent gale of wind, which damaged several of the ships in their masts and rigging, and drove them, on the 20th, with the exception of four, back to their port. The missing ships were the Indomptable and Cornélie already mentioned, and the frigates Hortense and Incorruptible. The Cornélie, after sheltering herself at Genoa, reached Toulon on the 22d, as did the Indomptable in two days afterwards; but the Hortense and Incorruptible remained out for six or seven weeks.

It was on the 14th of February, when about 100 leagues to the eastward of Malta, on his return to Sardinia, that Lord Nelson wrote his celebrated letter to the first lord of the admiralty (Lord Melville), explaining why he had considered Egypt to be the destination of the French fleet. " Feeling as I do, " he says, " that I am entirely responsible to my king and country for the whole of my conduct, I find no difficulty at this moment, when I am so unhappy at not finding the French fleet, nor having obtained the smallest information where they are, to lay before you the whole of the reasons which induced me to pursue the line of conduct I have done. I have consulted no man, therefore the whole blame of ignorance in forming my judgment must rest with me. I would allow no man to take from me an atom of my glory had I fallen in with the French fleet, nor do I desire any man to partake of any of the responsibility. All is mine, right or wrong : therefore I shall now state my reasons, after seeing that Sardinia, Naples, and Sicily, were safe, for believing that Egypt was the destination of the French fleet ; and at this moment of sorrow, I still feel that I have acted right. Firstly; the wind had blown from north-east to south-east for 14 days before they sailed : therefore they might, without difficulty, have gone to the westward. Secondly ; they came out with gentle breezes

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