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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol I


British and French Fleets


by an immediate chase he would have compelled them to engage, or have increased their distance from the land, which would in a great degree have ensured their capture or destruction. The delay, of making the signal gave them time to recover from their confusion; and when, after a lapse of four hours, the British admiral made sail in chase, the wind failed, and the opportunity was irrecoverably lost." *

To this it may be added, that the British admiral, had he persevered in the chase for a few hours longer, would have regained the wind of his opponent; as appears by the following entry in the log of the Victory: "At half-past 7 bore up ; enemy turning into Fréjus ; wind south-west." On the other hand, great allowance must be made for the locomotive disqualifications of the chasing fleet, or rather, of the single ship, by whose rate of going the speed of the fleet was, in a great measure, to be regulated. To talk of making a "dash," where such ships as the old Britannia and St.-George are present, is enough to raise a smile. Had the first been a private ship, the two might have been left behind to join the next day ; but, as carrying on board of her the commander-in-chief of the fleet, the Britannia, who was by far the worst sailer of the two, could not be left entirely out of sight.

The decided inferiority of the French, who, besides having but 17 ships to oppose to 23, had but one three-decker to oppose to six, is a sufficient excuse for their declining to engage. The French writers admit that Vice-admiral Martin did his utmost to avoid an engagement, on account of the odds against him ; but they wish to have it believed, that the Alcide caught fire and blew up in the act of defending herself, instead of after she had struck. The interval between the hauling down of the colours and the first appearance of the fire in the fore top is, however, clearly marked in the logs of the adjacent British ships. It will be enough to say, that the captain of the Alcide did his duty like a brave officer ; and we wish we knew both his name and the name of the officer who commanded the ship next ahead of him in the line, that ship having, in the most gallant manner, backed her main topsail, to cover, however ineffectually, her disabled companion from the irresistible force by which she was assailed. †

The French fleet soon afterwards returned to Toulon, and the British fleet proceeded, first to San-Fiorenzo, and then to Leghorn. On the 6th of August Admiral Hotham again put to sea, with 20 English, and three Neapolitan sail of the line, and, arriving

* Brenton, vol. ii., p. 74.

† The contempt with which the officers of the present day speak of this action, considering the superiority of the English, both in three-deckers and in general numbers, sufficiently bears out Brenton in any remarks he may have made on the subject. The relinquishing pursuit, at the moment the Victory bore up, is perfectly incomprehensible, and the results of the action are as trivial as the list of killed and wounded.-Editor.

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