1805 - Their arrival at Martinique, Forged despatch in the Moniteur


 
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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1805 Lord Nelson and M. Villeneuve 331

Madrid Gazette, of April 13, gives the correct number of ships, both French and Spanish, that joined M. Villeneuve; and so does Napoléon himself, when writing confidentially to his minister of marine : " Il paraît que cinq vaisseaux et une frégate ont rallié l'amiral Villeneuve; qu'un sixième avait touché, mais allait partir. " * And yet no French writer, such is the permanent injury of distorting historical facts, has been able to give a consistent account of this transaction.

Scarcely had daylight on the 9th made its appearance, than the French admiral was constrained to shorten sail for his Spanish friends ; and, to the additional regret of M. Villeneuve, the wind, before the close of the day, shifted to the westward. An alternation of contrary winds and calms, coupled with the indifferent sailing of one of the French (the Atlas) and two or three of the Spanish ships, made it the 12th of May before the fleet arrived in sight of the island of Martinique. In the course of the following day, the 13th, the five Spanish, and 11 of the 12 French sail of the line, accompanied by the seven frigates (one of them Spanish), one ship-corvette, and three brig-corvettes, also by a large store-ship, and the late British ship-sloop Cyane, a prize, anchored in the harbour of Fort-Royal, or, as named at the commencement of the republican dynasty, Fort-de-France but not without having sustained, in passing, a smart cannonade from the Diamond Rock.

In the course of the same night, it is believed, the twelfth: French line-of-battle ship (probably, from her acknowledged badness of sailing, the Atlas) anchored with her companions ; and on the 16th, early in the morning, the Spanish 80-gun ship San-Rafaël, which had sailed from Cadiz on the 10th of April, rounded Pointe-Saline. At 8 a.m. she hoisted a Spanish ensign and pendant ; whereupon, by way of decoy, French colours were displayed at the flag-staff of the Diamond. At 9 a.m. the Spanish ship, having unsuspiciously, approached close under the lee of the rock, on which English colours had just been substituted for French, received a fire as unexpected as it proved annoying. The San-Rafaël quickly put her helm up, and returning one ineffectual shot as she wore, hastened out of range as fast as the little wind would permit her ; anchoring, the same afternoon, in company with M. Villeneuve's fleet.

A very different story from all this is told in the publication which the Moniteur was compelled to insert in the shape of letter from M. Villeneuve, and a translation of which, as of document of undoubted authenticity, went the rounds of the English newspapers. " Le 19 floréal," says this arrant piece of forgery , " me trouvant à la hauteur prescrite par mes instructions j'ai, conformement à leur contenu, remis à l'amiral Gravina

* Précis des Evènemens, tome xi., p. 229.

See p. 243

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