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Ville d'Anvers, 1805
Type: French ; Armament 12 long 24- pounders
16th of May 1804 (Vol iii - page 223)
16th of May 1804 (Vol iii - page 224)
17th of May 1804 (Vol iii - page 227)
17th July 1805 (Vol iii - page 309-10)
On the 17th of the month, at 6 P. M., a light north-east wind enabled the Dutch admiral to put to sea (if keeping close along shore can be called so) with the four prames, Ville-d'Aix, Ville-d'Anvers, Ville-de-Genève, and Ville-de-Mayence, and 32 first-class gun-vessels ; the latter under the command of two captains of the Batavian navy, the former of the French capitaine de frégate Bernard-Isidore Lambour. The admiral with great judgement, formed his division into two lines, in such a manner that all the vessels could fire together with ease : two of the prames were placed in the centre of the outer line, where the admiral himself commanded, and the other two at the extremities, which were the stations assigned to the two Dutch captains. Several other gun-vessels were at Dunkerque, but they, being of a smaller class, had retired into the harbour to escape the fury of the north-west gales. Directions had been left by Admiral Ver-Huell for these gun-vessels to follow, in two divisions, as soon as an engagement should be seen to take place between his division and the enemy.
Owing to the numerous banks and shoals off Ostende and Dunkerque, the British squadron in the vicinity, consisting the 20-gun ship Ariadne, Captain the Honourable Edward King, three or four ship-sloops and bombs, and about as many gun-brigs, was at anchor off Gravelines. Ships loom large in thick weather. It must have been owing to this, that the French mistook the Ariadne, a ship not above a third larger than either of the French prames, for " un vaisseau rasé, " and her companions (increased in number as well as size) for " deux fregates, trois corvettes a trois mats, et neuf bricks. " At 6 h. 30 m. P. M. the Ariadne and squadron discovered the flotilla, then just under way ; but the lightness of the wind and the slow sailing of the prames so retarded its progress, that its course was not clearly ascertained until 7 h. 15 m. P. M. ; when, instantly, the British cut their cables and made sail, to meet the Dutch admiral. At 9 h. 15 m. P. M. the Ariadne and one or two of her nearest companions opened their fire upon the flotilla ; and, notwithstanding the shallowness of the water, the obscurity of the night, and the incessant cannonade maintained, both by the prames and gun-vessels, and by the heavy batteries on the coast, the Ariadne and her consorts succeeded in driving three or four gun-vessels on shore, and in cutting away the mainmast and damaging the rigging of the Ville-de-Genève, the rearmost prame. With, however, such powerful support from the shore, and the aid of the long 24-pounders mounted by the prames, the bulk of the flotilla, at 11 h. 30 m. P. M., came to anchor in the road of Calais. The only British ship that appears to have sustained any injury was the Ariadne herself : she had one sergeant of marines mortally, one lieutenant of marines dangerously, and two seamen slightly wounded, and her rigging and sails a good deal cut. Some loss must undoubtedly have been incurred on the part of the flotilla, especially on board the Ville-de-Genève and stranded gun-vessels, but none has been recorded.
The noise of the firing had caused a great bustle among the shipping in the Downs ; and, soon after midnight, the 50-gun ship Trusty, Captain George Argles, 28-gun frigate Vestal, Captain Stephen Thomas Digby, and three ship-sloops, weighed and stood across towards Calais. On the 18th, at 4 A. M., the Vestal, outsailing the others, joined the Ariadne and squadron ; and in half an hour afterwards the British recommenced the action with the Dutch flotilla and the batteries in front of Calais. After a two hours' cannonade, in which the nines of the Vestal stood a very poor chance against the 36s and 24s of the forts and gun-vessels, the frigate, with a corporal of marines mortally wounded, made the signal to discontinue the action ; and, with her companions, bore away to the westward, where a spirited firing had just commenced, and whither the Trusty and sloops had already proceeded.
Will it be believed that the following passage refers to the Vestal and squadron ? " Il y fut attaqué le matin, avec aussi peu d'effet que la veille, par dix-neuf batimens, dont deux vaisseaux de ligne, onze frégates, et six bricks." * So also it stands, merely substituting " cinq frégates, six grandes corvettes," for " onze fregates, " in another French historical work. These and other similar statements were no doubt originally framed to exalt the flotilla in the opinion of the country, or to serve some such temporary purpose. How careful, then, ought the historian to be in compiling his materials; otherwise, he unknowingly assists in propagating a falsehood, not merely by the publicity of his work, but by the sanction of his name.