A fairer match one seldom sees on paper. But there were some qualifying circumstances, the absence of which, in the estimation of those who view the affair as a mere struggle for glory, would have rendered the prize a yet more honourable trophy. The Hercule had been out of port but 24 hours, and that for the first time since she had been launched ; while the Mars, in the words of Earl St.-Vincent, was "an old-commissioned, well, practised ship." * Moreover an English 18-pounder frigate was not far off ; and even Lord Bridport's fleet could see the flashes of the guns. Upon the whole, therefore, the action of the Mars and Hercule was one that, in the conduct of it throughout, reflected about an equal share of credit upon both the contending parties.
Captain Hood was nephew to Lords Bridport and Hood, and received a musket-ball in the femoral artery, about 20 minutes after the action commenced ; of which wound he died just as it terminated. Captain L'Héritier was the same officer who so gallantly fought the America in the action with Lord Howe. On his return to France after the loss of the Hercule, Captain L'Héritier was not only acquitted by a court-martial, but received, and no one can say he did not merit, a flattering letter from the minister of marine, Rear-admiral Bruix.
The Jason, who was about two miles off at the time of the Hercule's surrender, arrived on the spot in about 20 minutes afterwards, and was then of great service in exchanging the prisoners, and getting the prize out of the intricate passage in which she had anchored. The Hercule had been launched at Lorient about ten months, and, when fallen in with, was on her way to join the Brest fleet. She had on board a complete set of rigging for a 74-gun ship at the latter port ; and which, as we conjecture, had been intended for the new 74-gun ship Quatorze-Juillet, set on fire and destroyed in the harbour of Lorient, a few weeks previous to the Hercule's departure, by, according to the French accounts, an incendiary. Fortunately, only three persons were in the ship at the time, and, it is believed, they escaped.
The holes in the Hercule's starboard side were so large and numerous, particularly under the counter and just above the water-line that, had the weather been at all boisterous, her arrival in a British port would have been very doubtful. With good management, however, the Hercule reached Plymouth in safety on the morning of the 27th, and was added to the British navy under her French name. The cost of simply making good the damages which the Hercule had sustained by the shot of the Mars, was computed at £12,500. Lieutenant William Butterfield, upon whom the command of the Mars devolved after Captain Hood had received his mortal wound, was of course promoted.
Although, during the greater part of the present year, there
* Clarke and M'Arthur's Life of Nelson, Vol. ii., p. 57.
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