1808 - Escape of the Rochefort squadron

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1808 Escape of the Rochefort Squadron 3

sail of the line under the command of Rear-admiral Sir Richard John Strachan in the Cæsar. In order the better to enforce the blockade, Sir Richard anchored his ships in Basque roads. On the 29th of November, being short of provisions, the squadron weighed and stood to the offing, in the hope of falling in with some victuallers, which Sir Richard had appointed to meet him at the distance of 10 or 12 leagues south-west of Roche Bonne. Being driven by strong north-east gales rather beyond the rendezvous, and some delay having occurred in the departure of the victuallers from England, the squadron did not get its wants supplied before the 12th of January ; nor was it until the 18th that the state of the weather would permit the Mediator to be cleared, and the provisions which she had brought out to be divided among the ships.

In the interim some important occurrences had happened in the port, the entrance to which Sir Richard Strachan's squadron had thus been compelled to leave unguarded. On the 4th of January the French 74-gun ship Patriote, Captain Joseph-Hyacinthe-Isidore Khrom, from Chesapeake bay, as recently as the 16th of December, had anchored in the road of Isle d'Aix ; and on the 17th of January, at 8 a.m., Rear-admiral Allemand, observing that only a frigate and a brig cruised off the port, took advantage of a moderate breeze at north-east by north, and put to sea with the 120 gun-ship Majestueux, 74 gun-ships Ajax (newly launched), Jemmappes, Lion, Magnanime, and Suffren, one frigate, and one brig-corvette.

The British frigate off the port, which was the Phoenix, Captain Zachary Mudge, lay to about 20 minutes to watch the motions of the French ships ; when, finding that the latter were in chase of her, she signalled the 18-gun brig-sloop Raleigh, Captain Joseph Ore Masefield, to close, and made all sail west by north. At 11 a.m. the Phoenix lost sight of the French squadron, and at noon despatched the Raleigh to England with the intelligence. On the 19th, while in search of Sir Richard's squadron, the frigate fell in with the Attack gun-brig, Lieutenant Thomas Swain, and communicated to her the important information. On the 20th the Phoenix reconnoitred Isle d'Yeu, and discovered lying in the road one line-of-battle ship, partially rigged, and three brigs, two of which appeared ready for sea : she then steered for England, and on the 24th anchored in Cawsand bay.

It was only on the day previous to the arrival of the Phoenix in England, that the Attack succeeded in finding Sir Richard Strachan ; who was then about 50 miles south-west of Chaperon lighthouse, striving his utmost against a strong north-east wind : to regain his station. Scarcely had the squadron made sail in the direction of Cape Finisterre ere the wind shifted to the westward, from which quarter it blew a tempest during several successive days. The loss of the Cæsar's main

 

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