1805 - Learns that M. Villeneuve has passed the Straits


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1805 Lord Nelson and M. Villeneuve 329

the westerly and north-west winds, Lord Nelson despatched some light vessels in advance to Gibraltar and Lisbon. On the 16th, while the fleet was beating hard against a strong westerly wind, to get round the southern extremity of Sardinia, and obtain a glimpse of Toulon, a neutral vessel informed the Leviathan that the French fleet had been seen on the 7th off Cape de Gata. This was quickly followed by intelligence that M. Villeneuve had passed the Straits on the 8th. The prevalence of strong southerly and westerly winds made it the 30th, ere Lord Nelson got sight of the rock of Gibraltar; and about this time he heard that M. Villeneuve had been reinforced by some ships from Cadiz. There being no possibility of passing the Straits with the prevailing wind, and the fleet standing in great need of water and provisions, Lord Nelson, on the 4th of May, anchored in Mazari bay, on the Barbary shore, to water, and sent the Superb to Tetuan for cattle, fruit, and vegetables.

We will now see what is become of the object of Lord Nelson's pursuit ; of that which, as will clearly appear by the following letter from his lordship to Captain Ball, at Malta, dated April 19, when the fleet was buffeting with head winds, was the principal source of his uneasy frame of mind. " My good fortune, my dear Ball, seems flown away. I cannot get a fair wind, or even a side wind - dead foul ! dead foul ! - but my mind is fully made up what to do when I leave the Straits, supposing there is no certain information of the enemy's destination. I believe this ill-luck will go near to kill me ; but, as these are times for exertion, I must not be cast down, whatever I may feel. " In another letter, of the same date, to Lord Melville, this extraordinary man writes: " I am not made to despair; what man can do shall be done. I have marked out for myself a decided line of conduct, and I shall follow it well up, although I have now before me a letter from the physician of the fleet, enforcing my return to England before the hot months. Therefore, notwithstanding I shall pursue the enemy to the East or West Indies, if I know that to have been their destination, yet, if the Mediterranean fleet joins the Channel, I shall request, with that order, permission to go on shore. " *

Returning to M. Villeneuve, while off Carthagena, he sent a boat on shore, to offer his services and the protection of his fleet to the six Spanish ships ready for sea in the port ; but Rear-admiral Salzeco, having been ordered with his squadron on a different service, declined the junction. So says M. Villeneuve ; but the Spanish ambassador at Paris asserted, that the refusal to join came from the French admiral. Napoléon denies this roundly ; adding, in his usual energetic way: " Mais que l'amiral Villeneuve, passant par le détroit et ayant des craintes, eût refusé

* Clarke and M'Arthur, vol. ii., p. 404.

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