1808 - Admiral Ganteaume in the Mediterranean

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1808 British and French Fleets 6

westward. Captain (now Sir Jahleel) Brenton, placing his ship about two leagues on the weather beam of the French admiral, under an easy sail, watched his motions during the day ; the enemy chased, but without gaining on him ; in the evening, having previously prepared his launch with a temporary deck, he hove to, and sent her under the command of Lieutenant Coffin with despatches to Trepani, then 130 miles distant. This officer narrowly escaped capture by the enemy's fleet, which, before he had got two miles from the ship, came close upon him ; he very judiciously lowered his sails and lay quiet until they had passed. He reached Trepani on the following evening, whence, despatching the launch agreeably to his orders to Malta, he set off for Palermo, and gave the intelligence to Rear-admired Martin. The launch reached Malta on the third day, and, vessels were detached in every direction in search of the British fleet ; the enemy in the mean time continued in chase of the Spartan, dividing on opposite tacks, to take advantage of any change of wind, so frequent in the Mediterranean. Confident in the sailing qualities of his ship, the captain at night again placed himself on the weather beam of the French admiral, and at daylight made sail from him on the opposite tack, to increase the chance of falling in with the British fleet. The enemy tacked in chase : the Spartan was becalmed, whilst they were coming up with the breeze, and for a short time her capture appeared almost inevitable ; but as she caught the breeze, she again took her position on the admiral's weather beam. This was the close of the third day ; when a frigate was seen to run along the French line, and speak all the ships in succession : soon after the whole of them bore up, steering with the wind a-beam ; and the captain of the Spartan concluding that the French admiral had shaped his course for the gut of Gibraltar, and had given up the chase, steered the same way with a strong breeze at N.N.W. The night was excessively dark, and a most anxious look-out was kept for the enemy : at half-past seven they were discovered on the lee quarter, close hauled, and very near : this was evidently a stratagem of Ganteaume's to get to windward of his enemy ; but the manoeuvre failed. All hands were on deck, and at their stations ; the Spartan wore and crossed the enemy within gun shot, before they could take any advantage of their position ; the French squadron also wore in chase, and the next morning down to leeward. The fourth day was passed in the same manner ; the Spartan keeping a constant and anxious look-out for the British fleet, while the enemy crowded every sail in pursuit of her ; in the evening a shift of wind brought them windward, and the night being very squally and dark, Captain Brenton lost sight of them, &c."   *

Upon his return to Toulon, as we have stated, on the 10th of

* Brenton, vol. iv., p. 239

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