|Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
||British and French Fleets - Channel
barrels) and other inflammable matter, was a piece of clockwork, the main spring of which, on the withdrawing of a peg placed on the outside, would, in a given time (from six to ten minutes), draw the trigger of a lock, and explode the vessel. This " catamaran " as it was called, had no mast, and was to be towed to the spot of its operation. On the opposite end to that which the tow-rope was fixed was a line, with a sort of grappling-iron at its extremity, kept afloat by pieces of cork, and intended to hook itself to the cable of the object of destruction, and swing the coffer alongside.
The appearance of about 150 vessels, moored in a double line outside the pier of Boulogne, offered a fit opportunity for trying the effect of these much-vaunted machines. Accordingly on the 1st of October, in the morning, Admiral Lord Keith, in the Monarch 74, with three 64s, two 50s, and several frigates, sloops, bombs, gun-brigs, cutters, and fire-vessels, anchored about five miles from the French line off Boulogne. In the course of the day, the Monarch, accompanied by three frigates and some smaller vessels, weighed, and reanchored just out of gun-shot of the French batteries and flotilla. This movement, coupled with the information previously furnished by spies, left no doubt in the minds of the French as to the nature of the attack that was about to ensue. Every defensive preparation had already been made by Rear-admiral Lacrosse, whose flag was flying on board the Ville-de-Mayence prame, stationed in the centre of the line. Towards evening the French admiral despatched several gunboats and armed launches to a distance outside, that they might be ready, as well to give notice by signal of the enemy's approach, as, if possible, to grapple and tow away the fire-vessels. On shore the batteries were all ready, and bodies of troops, with numerous field-pieces, were stationed along the coast.
On the 2d of October, at about 9 h. 15 m. p.m. the four fire-vessels, Amity, Devonshire, Peggy, and Providence, towed by armed launches, proceeded upon the service assigned them. In less than a quarter of an hour their approach was signalled by the French videttes ; who, as soon as they found that the fire they opened was not returned, suspected the nature of the vessels which, with a strong tide and fair wind, were fast driving towards them. A scuffle now ensued between the French gunboats and the English launches ; and the latter, having towed their charges to a proper distance, and ignited the fuses, left the tide to perform the rest, and rowed back to their ships. As the fire-vessels approached the left of the French line, a heavy cannonade commenced, with a view of sinking them, but it failed in its effect. The Providence, entering among the gunboats, exploded at 10 h. 15 m., between No. 149 and No. 142, stationed in the second line, wounding two men on board the latter vessel. The explosion was awfully loud, and created considerable alarm, as well along the French line, as among the
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