1805 - Successful ruse of Captain Cribb


 
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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1805 Lord Nelson and M. Villeneuve 339

British colonies (nearly the whole of which, according to a French writer, had drawn up the capitulations they meant to propose to M. Villeneuve, and counted out the sums of money they could afford to pay him for their ransom * ), the merchant-masters did, most probably, exaggerate the British force under Lord Nelson, in the hope to drive the French admiral back to Europe. If so, the plan produced its effect ; for, on the 9th or 10th all the troops which had been withdrawn from Martinique and Guadaloupe were precipitately embarked on board the Hortense, Didon, Hermione, and Thémis frigates, with orders to Captain La-Marre-la-Meillerie, of the Hortense the senior officer, to disembark them at the last-named island, and then to rejoin the fleet at the appointed rendezvous.

That, in acting thus, the French admiral was but obeying his orders, is to be inferred from the fact, that Napoléon anticipated that M. Villeneuve would return straight to Europe on learning that he was pursued. " Je hâterai mon arrivée (à Boulogne) de quelques jours, parce que je pense que l'arrivée de Nelson " (whose force he in another place states at " dix seuls vaisseaux " ), " en Amérique pourrait pousser Villeneuve à partir pour le Ferrol. The only act for which Napoléon blamed M, Villeneuve, was for not leaving at Martinique and Guadaloupe the troops which the fleet had carried out. In his anger, at the partial failure of his projects, the French emperor did certainly attribute this omission on the part of M. Villeneuve, to fright, " épouvante," at the rumour of his being pursued ; but, at a subsequent day, when the thoughts of invading England had long ceased to agitate his breast, Buonaparte frankly admitted that Villeneuve was a brave man.

On the 26th of June, when, having executed their mission, they were returning to the fleet, the Didon, Hermione, Hortense, and Thémis fell in with the Sirène and her valuable charge ; and that but a short distance to windward of the spot whence the latter had made sail 17 days before. Coupling the time already lost with the time it would still take to get a fleet of dull-sailing merchantmen so far to windward as Guadaloupe, Captain La-Marre-la-Meillerie determined to bear up with them for Porto-Rico. On the following day, the 27th, when about 180 miles to north-east of Barbuda, the British 18-gun ship-sloops, Kingfisher, Captain Richard William Cribb, and Osprey, Captain Timothy Clinch, appeared in sight to windward, and were chased by the French frigates. In making sail to escape, the two sloops hoisted signals and fired guns, as if to a fleet ahead. This had the desired effect. The chasing ships immediately bore up ; and, in a very little time, the whole 15 merchant

* Victoires et Conquêtes, tome xvi., p. 121.

Précis des Evènemens, tome xi., p. 282.

See O'Meara's Napoléon in Exile, vol. i,, p. 57.

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