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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol I


Capture of the Berwick


on the 3d of March, weighed and put to sea with his 15 sail of the line and six frigates. On the 7th, at daybreak, after a succession of north-easterly gales, which had partially dismasted two of the ships, the fleet gained a sight of the island to which it was bound. At 7 a.m., when within five leagues of Cape Corse, the advanced frigates discovered to leeward, standing out of the bay of San-Fiorenzo, where she had been detained by foul winds until the preceding morning, the jury-rigged Berwick, making the best of her way to Leghorn.

All sail was immediately set, on the part of the French, for pursuit, and, the moment Captain Littlejohn, by the usual mode of signalling, had ascertained that the strange fleet was not, what by its colours it purported to be, Spanish, he used every means to effect his escape. The crippled state of the Berwick greatly retarded her progress; and at 11 a.m., when close off Cape Corse, the Alceste frigate, Captain Lejoille, passed to leeward, under Spanish colours, but changed them to French, as she opened her fire, within musket-shot, on the 74's lee bow. The Minerve and Vestale presently took their stations on the Berwick's quarter ; and it was not long, according to the British account, before one or two of the headmost line-of-battle ships joined in the carronade.

In the hope that Vice-admiral Hotham's fleet might have put to sea, the Berwick kept a steady course for Leghorn ; but, before noon, her rigging was cut to pieces and every sail in ribands. Just as the Berwick had punished the temerity of the Alceste, by a broadside that is represented to have disabled her, a bar-shot took off Captain Littlejohn's head. The command then devolved upon Lieutenant Nesbit Palmer ; who, considering all further resistance useless, and having, it is said, obtained the concurrence of his officers, ordered the Berwick's colours to be struck.

On board the Berwick four seamen were wounded, but the captain was the only person killed. So small a loss was attributed to the high firing of the French ; who, making sure of the Berwick's capture, and wanting such a ship entire in their fleet, were wise enough to do as little injury as possible to her hull. The Alceste lost, by the Berwick's fire, her captain, another officer, and six seamen wounded, but none killed. It does not appear that the two other frigates sustained any loss. According to the French accounts, the three frigates were all that engaged the Berwick, and the action continued from first to last very little more than a quarter of an hour.

The Berwick's officers and crew were distributed among the different ships, without being allowed to take any clothes except those on their backs, and were, in every other respect, most shamefully treated. On their subsequent enlargement and return home, they were tried by a court-martial for the loss of their ship, and honourably acquitted.

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