a total, without reckoning the ships in Toulon, of 46 sail of the line.
Three distinct expeditions appear to have been in the contemplation of the French government at the close of the year 1794. One squadron, of six sail of the line and a few frigates and corvettes, under the orders of Rear-admiral Renaudin, the late Vengeur's gallant captain, was to hasten to the Mediterranean, to reinforce the Toulon fleet. With a second squadron, of six sail of the line, four frigates, four corvettes, and a sufficiency of transports to contain 6000 troops, Rear-admiral Kerguelen, an officer of the old French marine, and one of the most active and experienced at this time in the service, was to make his way to India, for the purpose of placing the Isle of France in a proper state of defence. A third squadron, composed of two or three sail of the line and smaller vessels, including transports with troops, was destined for Saint-Domingo, in order, if possible, to restore the French authority in that ill-fated island.
Such, however, was the state of penury, both in the arsenals and the storehouses of Brest, that there was not timber and cordage enough properly to repair the ships disabled on the 1st of June, nor a sufficiency of provisions to supply the fleet with sea-stores, flour and biscuit in particular, for even a much shorter voyage than either of those in contemplation by the French minister, or commissary, M. d'Albarade. To increase the evil of waiting for the expected convoy of 50 or 60 vessels north-about from the Baltic, the number of mouths daily to be fed in the port amounted to 72,000.*
The reinforcement to the Toulon fleet being considered of more immediate consequence than the other expeditions, the squadron allotted for that service was, with great difficulty, provisioned for six months ; and the remainder of the Brest fleet, many of the ships with only a 15 days' stock on board, and a few others with fished masts, and with hulls, from the hard battering they had received, scarcely seaworthy, were to quit port, and escort those six sail of the line beyond the probable cruising ground of the British Channel fleet, reported to consist, including the Portuguese squadron, of 33 sail of the line.
Every thing being in readiness, or as much so at least as circumstances would permit, a gale of wind from a fair quarter was considered a favourable opportunity ; and on or about the 24th of December, 1794, the Brest fleet, consisting of 35 ships of the line (five three-deckers, three 80s, and the remainder 74s,), † 13 frigates, and 16 corvettes, avisos, and tenders, making in the whole 63 vessels of war, got under way, and stood for the harbour's mouth or goulet. The commander-in-chief of this, for
* Relations des Combats, &c. par Y. 1. Kerguelen, ancien contre amiral, p. 369.
† As no action occurred with these ships thus united as a fleet, their names need not appear.^ back to top ^