1805 - Departure of combined fleet from Martinique, Capture of a British convoy


Next Page

Previous Page
Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1805 British and Franco-Spanish Fleets 338

expedition ; and, compared to which, in the eyes of Napoléon the capture and pillage of the British West-India islands was mere child's play.

On the 4th of June the combined fleet, composed of the same vessels with which it had anchored, except the Santa-Madalena, Torche, Naïade, and Cyane, and having on board in addition to the troops it had brought out, a portion of the garrison of Martinique, set sail from the harbour of Fort-Royal, steering a northerly course. On the same or following day the two 74s, Algésiras and Achille, which had arrived at Guadaloupe on the 29th of the preceding month, and had sailed on the 2d of June in search of the admiral, effected their junction. On the 6th M. Villeneuve lay to off the road of Basse-Terre, and received on board his fleet a portion of the garrison of Guadaloupe.

Thus reinforced, the French admiral, with his 20 sail of the line, seven frigates, and two brigs, passed to windward of Montserrat and Redundo, and to leeward of Antigua, with what precise object in view has never been satisfactorily explained. However concealment or a distortion of facts might suit the policy of Napoléon, it was aiming a deadly blow at the reputation of his officers to make their public letters the channel of falsehoods. In M. Villeneuve's letter of 8 thermidor (26th July), published in the Moniteur of August 11, a void occurs between the day of his departure from Martinique, "le 16 prairial," or 4th of June, and that on which he made Cape Finisterre, " le 21 messidor, " or 9th of July. Not a word there about the junction of the two 74s, or the abstraction of colonial garrisons ; a tolerable proof that one or more important paragraphs had been suppressed.

On the 8th, having doubled Antigua, as if with the real intention of operating among the British islands, M. Villeneuve receive. intelligence from an American schooner, that in the north-north-east he would find a British homeward-bound convoy, which had sailed the day previous from that island. Chase was immediately given ; and before night the Franco-Spanish fleet overtook 15 sail of merchant vessels, under the protection of the British 28-gun frigate Barbadoes, Captain Joseph Nourse, and 14-gun schooner Netley, Lieutenant Richard Harward. The two men of war effected their escape ; but the merchantmen, valued with their cargoes at five millions of francs, were captured. The prizes were given in charge to the Sirène frigate, with orders to escort them to Guadaloupe, and rejoin the fleet off the Western Islands.

Scarcely had the frigate and her rich convoy parted company, than a rumour reached Admiral Villeneuve, derived, no doubt, from some of the prisoners, that Lord Nelson had arrived in the West Indies in search of him. Smarting under their heavy losses, and suspecting from the troops on board, that the combined fleet, even yet, was destined to act against some of the

^ back to top ^