Next Page

Previous Page

10 Pages >>

10 Pages <<
1812 Light Squadrons and Single Ships 48

On the 9th of January the two French 40-gun frigates Arienne and Andromaque, and 16-gun brig-corvette Mamelouck, under the orders of Commodore Martin Le Foretier, sailed from Nantes upon a cruise. On the 15th, at noon, in latitude 44 10' north, longitude 14 14' west, they fell in with the British 24-pounder 40-gun frigate Endymion, Captain Sir William Bolton. In about an hour afterwards the latter, who was to leeward, exchanged numbers with the 50-gun ship Leopard, Captain William Henry Dillon, having under her protection a convoy from Lisbon. At 2 p.m. the Endymion, one of the fastest sailing ships in the British navy, tacked after the two French frigates and brig, and at 4 p.m. was joined in the chase by the Leopard ; who had previously signalled her convoy to make the best of their way into port. At 4 h. 30 m. p.m. the French vessels were observed to be under easy sail, as if in no dread of being overtaken. At 5 p.m. the Endymion ran the Leopard out of sight, and at 8 p.m. the French squadron ran her out of sight.

Having thus effected their escape, the French frigates very soon commenced their depredations upon commerce; plundering and destroying, not only English merchant vessels, but those of Spain, Portugal, and the United States of America. Intelligence of all this reaching the board of admiralty, the commander-in-chief of the Channel fleet, Admiral Lord Keith, then resident at Plymouth, was directed to order the officer in command off the port of Brest, to detach a force to endeavour to intercept these French frigates on their return to France.

The vessel, which Rear-admiral Sir Harry Neale selected to cruise off the port of Lorient for the purpose in view, was the 74-gun ship Northumberland, Captain the Honourable Henry Hotham ; and certainly an officer possessed of more zeal, ability, and local as well as general experience, could not have been chosen. On the 19th of May the Northumberland parted company from the Boyne and squadron off Ushant, and made sail for her destination. On the 22d, at 10 a.m., the northwest point of Isle Groix bearing north distant 10 miles, and the wind a very light breeze from west by north, the Northumberland discovered the three objects of her search in the north-west, crowding all sail before the wind for Lorient. Captain Hotham endeavoured to cut off the French squadron to windward of the island, and signalled the British 12-gun brig Growler, Lieutenant John Weeks, then about seven miles in the south-west, to chase ; but, finding it impossible to accomplish that object, the Northumberland pushed, under all sail, round the south-east end of Groix, and, hauling to the wind close to leeward of the island, was enabled to fetch to windward of the harbour of Lorient before the French squadron could reach it.

Seeing himself thus cut off from his port, M. Le Foretier, at 2 h. 30 m. p.m., signalled his consorts to pass within hail, and then hauled up on the larboard tack to windward of Pointe

^ back to top ^