rear-admiral is told, at he may pursue the French squadron to "any part of the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Morea, Archipelago, or even into the Black Sea."
It is clear, from the tenour of these instructions, that the British government were quite in the dark as to the real, or, at all events, the primary destination of the Toulon fleet. But, that their surmise that the fleet would pass the Straits was not wholly without foundation, will appear from the following extract of a letter addressed, under date of the 18th of April, 1798, by Buonaparte to the French directory : "Il serait possible, après l'expédition que le gouvernement projette dans la Méditerranée, de faire passer les quatorze vaisseaux * à Brest." † At all events, Rear-admiral Nelson was left entirely to his own discretion, as to the course to be steered in pursuit of the fleet, which he had been ordered by his instructions to use his utmost endeavour to " take, sink, burn, or destroy." The circumstance of the French having quitted port with a north-west wind rendered it likely, in his opinion, that their course was up the Mediterranean. Accordingly the British fleet, as soon as a provoking calm would allow it to make sail, steered towards the island of Corsica. On the 12th the fleet arrived off Cape Corse, and in the evening lay to off the isle of Elba ; whence the Mutine was despatched for intelligence to Civita-Vecchia. It was the rear-admiral's intention, we are told, in case he overtook the French fleet, to make three divisions of his own, thus:
Two of these divisions, according to the plan laid down, were to attack the ships of war ; and the third, to pursue and run down, or otherwise destroy, the transports. A contest between nine small 74s and a 50, on one side, and one three-decker and twelve 80s and 74s, four or five of them the largest two-decked ships in the world, on the other, however much desired by, could scarcely have ended to the advantage of the admiral in command of the former.
Pursuing their course along the shore of Tuscany ; the British passed the small island of Gianuti, with a fine breeze at north-north-west. Here the Leander spoke a Moorish vessel, that gave information (which, by the by, was incorrect) that the French fleet was at Syracuse, in Sicily. About this time the Mutine joined, without having gained any intelligence. On the
* It was calculated, we believe, that the late British ship Berwick might be got ready.
^ back to top ^