The same night Captain Saumarez took command of the Russell, he had cause to find that promotion and honours bring cares. A report was made to him that the ship was in a state of mutiny, and that a shot had been thrown at one of the officers. He soon found, indeed, that he had a most disorderly ship's company; but the firm, prompt, and judicious regulations which Captain Saumarez immediately established, brought the crew so effectually into order, that two months after, at the memorable battle of the 12th April 1782, no ship was in a higher state of discipline than the Russell.
Situation of the Hostile Fleets.—Surrender of Brimstone Hill.—Junction of the Fleets.—Antigua.—St. Lucia.—Sailing of the French Fleet under Comte de Grasse.—Action of the 9th April.—12th of April.—Gallant conduct of the Russell.—Captain Saumarez returns to Jamaica.—Comes to England with Convoy.—Is paid off at Chatham, and confirmed a Post-captain.
It has now become necessary to give a brief account of the situation of the hostile fleets at the seat of war in the West Indies. While the enemy's troops were prosecuting the siege of Brimstone Hill, the fleet under the Comte de Grasse had been reinforced, and either continued at sea, near to Basseterre, or anchored in the old road. On the 13th, a practicable breach being made in the works, the general and governor having given up all hopes of succour, and his brave garrison being reduced to five hundred men, they embraced the proposals of a capitulation made by the Marquis de Boullie, who on the same day proclaimed the surrender of Brimstone Hill to the admiral by a flag of truce, which had been previously agreed upon. The British fleet, which had till this time continued at the anchorage in which it had so bravely resisted the attacks of the Comte de Grasse, who on the 14th anchored off Nevis with thirty-four sail of the line, was now in a perilous situation, especially as the enemy were erecting mortar batteries on the hill opposite to the shipping; and as it was no longer necessary for him to continue there, Sir Samuel Hood issued orders to slip or cut cables without signal at eleven o'clock at night, the sternmost and leeward-most ships first, and so on in succession, and proceed under easy sail until directed otherwise by signal. That this order might be punctually executed, the captains were ordered to set their watches by the admiral's timepiece. The movement was performed with the utmost order and regularity. Not one ship was molested or pursued by the French fleet, which was lying within five miles, and must have been astonished at this excellent manoeuvre of the British admiral, wherein the Russell had a distinguished share. Soon afterwards, Nevis and Montserrat fell into the hands of the French.
On the 19th February, Sir Samuel Hood anchored in St. John's Road, Antigua; and on the same day, Sir George Rodney arrived at Barbadoes from England with several sail of the line. On the 25th, he joined Sir Samuel Hood off Antigua; and, three days after, three more sail of the line arrived from England. Thus fortunately united, the admiral proceeded to St. Lucia, to refit and complete with water. On the 14th of March he put to sea, with a view of intercepting a large French convoy which was expected to arrive from Europe; but, notwithstanding the vigilance of the frigates, the enemy, by keeping close to Guadaloupe and Dominique, effected their escape into Fort Royal Bay, on the 20th and 21st, unperceived by any of our ships. When this unlucky event was made known to Sir George Rodney, he returned to St. Lucia, to watch the motions of the enemy. In the mean time the Russell, which had been damaged by striking on a rock, was repaired at the Carenage.
The Comte de Grasse was equally active in the equipment of his fleet, in order to proceed to leeward and form a junction with the Spaniards, for the purpose of carrying into execution their grand object—the reduction of Jamaica, with an overwhelming force of sixty sail of the line and twenty thousand troops.
At daylight, on the 8th April, Captain Byron, of the Andromache, communicated to the admiral by signal the anxiously-expected intelligence that the enemy's fleet, with their large convoy, were coming out of Fort Royal Bay, and standing to the north-west. Sir George Rodney first made the signal for all boats, and persons who had been necessarily employed in watering, &c. to repair on board, and immediately after to weigh. Before noon the whole fleet were clear of Gros Islet Bay: Sir George stretched first over to Fort Royal, and then made the general signal to chase north-eastward.
The enemy's lights were distinctly visible during the night; and as their ships-of-war, though better sailers than the English, were delayed by the convoy of transports, there was little doubt of overtaking them. Accordingly, at daylight on the morning of the 9th, some of the advanced ships were close up with their convoy under Dominique, while their men-of-war seemed much scattered: fourteen of the latter were between Dominique and the Saints, with a breeze from east-north-east; but the rest were becalmed under the land about St. Rupert's Bay, and one ship was observed at some distance in the north-west.
About half-past seven, the van division, commanded by Sir Samuel Hood, got the breeze; while the centre and rear, in which was the Russell, continued to be becalmed. This of course caused a separation, but did not deter Sir Samuel Hood from advancing, although he had only eight ships to fourteen of the enemy. In the mean time, the French ship seen in the north-west, which had got the breeze, boldly stood on and weathered the Alfred, the van-ship of Sir Samuel Hood's division, which bore up to allow her to pass; and, no signal having been made to engage, not a shot was fired.
At nine o'clock the action began, and was maintained with determined bravery for upwards of an hour, the enemy's ships which had the breeze having borne down upon and engaged this division; the Barfleur and others had, at times, three to one opposed to them; and in this attack there can be but one opinion, that the Comte de Grasse displayed great professional ability. At length the leading ships of the centre got up with the enemy's rear, and were followed by the Duke, Formidable, and Namur; the Arrogant lost her main-top-mast, as well as the Royal Oak. The rear squadron, commanded by Admiral Drake, now came up, and the Comte de Grasse prudently hauled his wind; and as his ships sailed better than the English, he succeeded in gradually drawing off, and by half-past one his fleet were all out of the reach of shot.
Captain Bayne, of the Alfred, lost his life in this his sixth encounter with the enemy; and it is said that he bled to death after his leg was shot off, before he was carried to the cockpit.
In the action of this day the Russell had only a small share, as she belonged to the rear division of the fleet, and, being becalmed, could not get up until the enemy had hauled off. The Royal Oak, Montagu, and Alfred were the ships which suffered most, but not so much as to prevent their being repaired at sea; while two of the enemy's ships were so materially disabled as to oblige them to bear up for Guadaloupe. The necessary repairs of these ships were not completed before the 11th, during which time the enemy, by carrying a great press of sail, had gained so far to windward as to weather the Saints, and were nearly hull down; and, as it was supposed that the Comte de Grasse meant to abandon to their fate two of his ships of the line that had been so much damaged in the late action as not to be able to keep company, all hope of being able to come up with them seemed now to vanish.
In the mean time the line had been inverted, which brought Rear-admiral Drake's division in the van, and that of Rear-admiral Hood, which had been engaged, in the rear. The signal having been made for a general chase, the two ships above mentioned would have been cut off, had not De Grasse been induced to bear down to their relief. This brought the enemy so far to leeward, that the hope of forcing them to engage was revived.
As soon as the commander-in-chief saw that the enemy's fleet was sufficiently to leeward, he recalled the chasing ships, formed a close line of battle, and carried sail to windward all night; during which the French line-of-battle ship Le Zele, whether from injuries received in action, or in running foul of another ship, lost her bowsprit and fore-mast, and at daylight on the morning of the 12th was seen in tow of a frigate, both carrying all the sail they could, and steering for Basseterre. Sir Samuel Hood being in the rear, and consequently nearest these ships, was directed to detach some of his division in chase of them; and the Comte de Grasse, seeing that they must be inevitably taken, bore up with his whole fleet for their protection. It was now impossible to avoid an action.
The ships which had been recalled from chase resumed their stations, and a close line ahead was formed on the starboard tack, the enemy being on the larboard. Having hauled their wind after they had perceived the chasing ships recalled, they thus endeavoured to avoid an action; but the English fleet could now fetch near the body of the French. At half-past seven, therefore, the engagement began by Admiral Drake's division, led by the Marlborough and Arrogant, fetching the fifth ship from the van, and bearing up in succession. The Honourable Hugh Lindsay, who was a midshipman in the Arrogant, informed us that in that part, and in the whole of the action, the enemy fired so high, that the three trucks of the Princessa's mast-heads were shot away, and the consequence was that very few men were killed or wounded. The Duke lost her main-top-mast, as she approached the centre of the enemy's fleet.
At half-past nine the action became general: Admiral Drake's division, in which was the Russell, had now passed the rear of the enemy on the opposite tack; and Captain Thompson, of the America, seeing that he could fetch to windward of the enemy's line, wore without waiting for the anxiously-expected signal, as did also the Russell; and we have reason to know that Captain Saumarez rejoiced at this circumstance. Captain Thompson, being an experienced officer and second in command, gave a sufficient authority to any other officer to follow his motions, and they now stood to the southward. The America, however, did not continue long on that tack, and the Russell was consequently separated from her and the whole division; as the signals to tack, and soon after to wear, were not made and put in execution for an hour afterwards by Sir Francis Drake, who was then considerably to the northward.
In the mean time the Russell continued, and got up with the rear ship of the enemy's centre division about eleven o'clock, with which she exchanged broadsides. At noon, the wind, which was very light, changed to the south, throwing both fleets into confusion; but this gave Sir George Rodney, and three of the centre division, an opportunity of passing through an opening it occasioned in the enemy's line, and doubling on its rear division: all their attempts to form again were in vain; the enemy's van could never come into action. After this, the remainder of the day was spent in desultory actions of single ships, without regard to the motions of each other; the signals to chase and for close action being visible only at intervals.
It is here unnecessary to give a particular account of the events which took place on this memorable day, or to allude to those circumstances which have been so fruitful in controversy; more especially as Rodney's public letter, and other official records, will be found in the Appendix to this volume. We shall, therefore, confine our observations to the positions and conduct of the Russell, commanded by Captain Saumarez.
The Russell was the only ship belonging to the van (Admiral Drake's) division, which had wore and continued her course soon after she had passed the rear of the enemy. By standing to the southward again, Captain Saumarez brought his ship into action, but to windward of the enemy; and, at the time the wind shifted to the southward, Sir George Rodney, in passing through the enemy's fleet, was surprised to find an English ship to windward of the French. Having ascertained it was the Russell, he declared emphatically that the captain had distinguished himself more than any officer in the fleet. By this favourable position, which he had thus gallantly obtained, after receiving the more distant fire of several of the enemy's ships, about three o'clock he was able to come up with and closely engage a French seventy-four, and after exchanging broadsides with three others, pushed up to the Ville de Paris, and after raking her, having maintained a position on the lee quarter, poured in a most destructive fire, until the Barfleur, Sir Samuel Hood's flag-ship, came up.
 Ralfe's Naval Biography, Vol. ii. p. 378.
Sir Gilbert Blane, in his account of this period of the battle, says: "It was late in the day when the Ville de Paris struck her colours: the ships immediately engaged with her at that moment were the Barfleur, the flag-ship of Sir Samuel Hood, and the Russell, commanded by Captain Saumarez. The Formidable (in which was Sir Gilbert) was right astern, and, having come within shot, was yawing in order to give the enemy a raking broadside, when Sir Charles Douglas and I standing together on the quarter-deck, the position of our ship opened a view of the enemy's stern between the foresail and the jib-boom, through which we saw the French flag hauled down." This fact has not been generally stated.
But the anecdote which we are now about to relate, must remove every doubt on the subject. In the autumn of 1808, when the Baltic fleet, under command of Vice-admiral Sir James Saumarez, returned from the Gulf of Finland, in company with the Swedish fleet, to the harbour of Carlscrona, the Swedish commander-in-chief, Admiral Palmquist, Rear-admiral Nauckhoff, Commodore Blessing, Captain Tornquist, and others, came on board the flag-ship, Victory, to pay their respects to the admiral: they were of course asked to take some refreshment in the cabin: on which, as on all other occasions where an interpreter was wanted, we were of the party. The conversation naturally turned to the actions wherein they each had served in early life, when it appeared that the whole of the four officers mentioned had been brought up in the French service, and had actually been in the battle of the 12th of April 1782. When we acquainted them that Sir James Saumarez commanded a ship in that action, they eagerly inquired the name; and being informed it was the Russell, Captain Tornquist, who was in the Northumberland, rising from his chair and seizing Sir James's hand, exclaimed, "Mon Dieu! Monsieur l'Amiral, nous avons brule le poudre ensemble; allons boire un coup."
It is impossible to do justice to the scene which followed. The old Swedish officer's joy at this discovery knew no bounds; they completely "fought the battle o'er again;" and we found it distinctly proved that it was the Russell, commanded by Captain Saumarez, which gallantly engaged several of the enemy's ships for two hours, and at six, P.M. pushed on to the Ville de Paris. Baron Rosenstien, who was on board that ship, and Baron Palmquist, who was on board La Couronne stationed next to her, declared that the Compte de Grasse, who was then attempting to escape to leeward, would have succeeded had it not been for the Russell. During our sojourn among the Swedes in that and another winter, we often heard the history of that memorable battle repeated; and they never ceased to maintain the circumstance we have stated, of which we made a memorandum at the time.
 See Appendix for this memorandum, and for extracts from the Russell, Canada, and Barfleur's logs; also Captain White's reply, and extracts of letters from Sir Lawrence Halsted and Admiral Gifford, who were in the Canada, and Captain Knight's letter.
We took leave on that occasion to say to Sir James, that we believed the credit had been given to another ship; to which he replied, "Yes, it was; but what Admiral Palmquist and Captain Tornquist has told you, is true: it was the Russell that engaged the Ville de Paris until the Barfleur came up." But such was the extreme sensibility of Saumarez, that he could not persuade himself to correct the error, from an idea that such an interference might argue a desire to sound his own praise; and, but for the circumstance we have now related, the truth might never have come to light.
In answer to a letter from Captain Thomas White, which he sent to Lord de Saumarez with a copy of his publication, called "Naval Researches," written in 1836, to defend the gallant Rodney from certain attacks and allegations which had been published, not to give a "full and perfect account of the battle, but," says Captain White, "more particularly that part where your lordship so ably commanded the Russell, which portion of our fleet the tongue of calumny has never ventured to assail," Lord de Saumarez wrote the following letter:
Guernsey, 13th June 1836.
MY DEAR SIR,
I BEG to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, accompanying your interesting publication, which you have done me the favour to send for my acceptance, and which has been forwarded to me by Lord Amelius Beauclerc.
I regret that you have (inadvertently, I am persuaded) fallen into the same error as some of your predecessors, in detailing the account of Lord Rodney's victory of the 12th of April, by ascribing to the Canada what is alone due to the Russell, which ship I commanded.
I shall for your information briefly state the circumstance to which I allude. After passing the sternmost of the enemy's ships, the America, the ship astern of the Russell, wore to stand after them: I was glad to have the example of an old experienced officer, and wore also; but Captain Thompson, finding there was no signal, shortly after wore again, to join Sir Samuel Drake's division. I stood on, till passing a division of four of the enemy's ships, I exchanged broadsides with them, and finally came up with the Ville de Paris, wore under her stern and engaged her on the quarter for some time, when the Barfleur came up, and the Comte de Grasse hauled down his colours.
Even at this distant period, I have a perfect recollection of the transactions of that day. I shall only add, that I am convinced that no officer who was on board the Canada in the victory of the 12th of April, will assert that she was engaged with the Ville de Paris at the time stated. The present Admiral Giffard was, I believe, one of the lieutenants, to whom I wish to refer you.
I am, &c. DE SAUMAREZ.
Captain White, as well as other officers, is of opinion that Admiral Drake's division should have tacked sooner; and, as circumstances happened, it would doubtless have been better if he had done so; but probably the admiral, in continuing to stand on the same tack, had calculated that the wind would continue in the same direction, or alter to the northward; in either case he would have weathered the whole of the enemy's fleet, besides giving time to his division to repair damages. The wind veering to the southward immediately after his division had wore, had unfortunately the effect of throwing them to leeward; whereas the Russell, which wore as above stated, was by the same change of wind far to windward of his division and nearer the enemy.
No sooner had the Ville de Paris struck her colours, which "went down with the setting sun," than the Russell made sail in chase of one of the French ships which had deserted her chief, as also did Sir Samuel Hood; but their noble efforts were arrested by the night signal to bring to, which put an end to the battle in that quarter: and although Commodore Affleck in the Bedford, and three others, who did not see the signal, continued the chase, they were unable to come up with the enemy, who escaped to leeward in small divisions and single ships, leaving the Ville de Paris, the Glorieux, the Hector, and Caesar, in possession of the English.
On the morning of the 13th no enemy was in sight, and the ships which had been in chase returned to the fleet. Admiral Rodney, with his prizes and the fleet, remained three days under Guadaloupe to repair damages, which afforded the flying enemy an opportunity to escape; but, on the 19th, the Caton and Jason, of sixty-four guns each, with the Astree and Ceres, frigates, were added to the list of prizes by the exertions of Sir Samuel Hood, Captains Goodall, and Linzee. On the 23rd of April, Sir Samuel Hood rejoined the fleet off Tiberoon; whereupon Sir George Rodney proceeded to Jamaica with those ships most disabled, among which was the Russell and the prizes, leaving Sir Samuel Hood with a strong squadron to watch the enemy, should they venture out and attempt to prosecute their attack on Jamaica.
Nothing could be more flattering than the reception that Sir George Rodney met with at Jamaica from the inhabitants, whose anxiety was so suddenly supplanted by unbounded joy; and who not only found themselves freed from the danger of invasion, but beheld the principal commander of that overwhelming force which had caused them so much alarm a prisoner within their harbour, and six of his principal ships having the English colours triumphantly waving over the fleur-de-lis of France.
It is worthy of remark that, down to this period, the Ville de Paris was the only first-rate man-of-war that had ever been taken and carried into port by any commander of any nation! The Ville de Paris, in the capture of which Captain Saumarez had a distinguished share, was the largest ship in the French navy: she had been a present from the city of Paris to Louis XV. and no expense had been spared to render the gift worthy of the city and of the monarch. Her length was 185 feet 7-1/2 inches, her breadth 53 feet 8-1/2, depth 22 feet 2, and 2347 tons' measurement; and the expense of building her and sending her to sea is said to have been 156,000l. On board her at the time of capture were found thirty-six chests of money intended for the pay and subsistence of the men who were to be employed in the expedition against Jamaica; and she had on board, at the commencement of the action on the 9th, 1,300 men: in the other captured ships, the whole train of artillery, the battering cannon and carriages meant for the expedition, were found.
The loss of men in the British fleet in both actions was very small, amounting to only two hundred and thirty-seven killed, and seven hundred and seventy-six wounded; while the loss of the French was computed to be three thousand slain, and double that number wounded. In the Ville de Paris alone three hundred were killed.
In the engagement on the 9th of April, the French fleet consisted of thirty-four sail of the line, and the British of thirty-six; but in that engagement, two of the enemy's ships having been disabled, their numerical force was reduced in the battle of the 12th to thirty-two sail of the line: on the other hand, the French ships were much larger than the British; and it was calculated by Sir Charles Douglas, that the broadside of the French fleet exceeded that of the British in weight by 4396 pounds, and their numerical superiority in men was much greater.
On the 13th of April, the Comte de Grasse was removed to the flag-ship; and, some days after, when Captain Saumarez went on board the Formidable after the action, and several times after their arrival at Jamaica, the Comte de Grasse acknowledged that the Ville de Paris suffered very severely from the well-directed fire of the Russell.
Among the instances of heroic submission and perseverance under the severest suffering, may be recorded the conduct of the captain of the main-top of the Russell, who having received a shot that carried off one of his arms, instead of requesting the assistance of his companions to take him below, insisted that they should continue at their stations, and let himself down by one of the backstays. After suffering amputation, he persisted in going again on deck, where he remained encouraging the men till the action terminated.
On the arrival of the fleet at Jamaica, the Russell was found to be in so disabled a state, that Sir George Rodney intended to send her home with the Ville de Paris and the other prizes, and arrangements were made for that purpose accordingly. His old friend, Sir Peter Parker, who had held the command at Jamaica, sailed in the Sandwich, on board which ship was the Comte de Grasse, for England, with a convoy of merchant-ships. After having been at sea three days, the Ajax, one of the ships under his command, sprang a leak, returned to Bluefields Bay, and the Russell was ordered to follow the fleet in her stead. The exertions which Captain Saumarez used to refit his ship obtained the commander-in-chief's highest approbation. In two days he was ready, and immediately joined the Sandwich and Intrepid, which now sailed with the trade under convoy, and preceded the prizes, which were not yet ready to undertake the voyage to England; and it was owing to this interposition of Providence, that the Russell escaped the melancholy fate which afterwards befel the unfortunate fleet, in which the ill-fated Ville de Paris was lost with all her crew. The Russell had on board three hundred French prisoners and twenty-two officers, and arrived at the Downs on the 29th July 1782. She was ordered to be paid off at Chatham, to which port she proceeded. On her arrival there, an order came from the Admiralty to draft her crew into a ship which was under order to sail for the East Indies. This excited a general murmur, and at length the men refused to obey. On Captain Saumarez being informed of it, he went on board and remonstrated, when they unanimously declared that, although they had but just returned from a long voyage, they would follow him all the world over. Before he left the ship, however, he prevailed on them to resume their duty; and these orders were subsequently altered. After returning her stores, the Russell was paid off on the 24th of September. Captain Saumarez' acting commission as a post-captain, dated on the 8th of February 1782, was confirmed by Earl Howe; and no officer in his Majesty's service more richly deserved his promotion.
1784 to 1793.
Captain Saumarez returns to Guernsey.—His exemplary Conduct.—Visits Cherbourg.—Is introduced to the French King.—Returns.—Changes at Guernsey.—Prince William Henry visits the Island twice.—His Reception.—Appearance of Hostilities in 1787.—Captain Saumarez is appointed to the Ambuscade, and pays her off.—His Letter on his Marriage.—Remarks thereon.—Armament of 1790.—Saumarez commissions and pays off the Raisonable.—War of 1793.—Appointed to command the Crescent.—First Cruise; takes a prize and saves Alderney.—Second Cruise; captures a cutter.—Third Cruise.—Return.—Crescent docked and refitted.
Captain Saumarez having paid off the Russell, and distributed his crew into different ships according to the final orders he had received from the Admiralty, repaired to London, and after paying his respects to Earl Howe, proceeded to Guernsey to receive the congratulations of his numerous friends; but these were far from altering "the natural bent of his disposition to do good." Instead of becoming elevated by prosperity, his sincere and unaffected piety induced him to take a leading part in the establishment of charitable institutions, and in his own person to give "a striking and useful example of moral and religious life." But his noble mind was never diverted from the service and the good of his country; he was constantly attentive to every circumstance that concerned the duties of his profession, and an event occurred about this time that peculiarly interested him.
Although this was a period of profound peace, the ambition of France was constantly awake. It had long been the object of the French government to form a naval port in the British Channel, for the evident, if not avowed, purpose of annoying our trade in time of war, and disputing with us the dominion of the British seas. No labour however arduous, and no expense however great, could check this favourite design. The port of Cherbourg, which had long been fixed upon as being immediately adjacent to our great arsenal at Portsmouth, became the point of attraction. The unfortunate Louis XVI. had determined to stimulate this grand undertaking by his presence, when the first cone was submerged.
The assemblage of the French court opposite our own coast naturally attracted a number of our countrymen, among whom was Captain Saumarez, who was induced to cross the Channel probably by a secret wish to examine the nautical projects of our rivals, to counteract which, might at some future period become his duty. This was eventually the case in 1793, when he captured the French frigate Reunion off that very harbour, from which she had sailed only a few hours before the action.
Captain Saumarez was present at the above imposing ceremony, and had the honour of being introduced to the French king, by whom he was treated with the greatest attention. It is worthy of remark, that this was the only time during his long life that he ever set his foot in France, and he returned directly to Guernsey much gratified by his excursion.
Between the period of Captain Saumarez' departure from Guernsey in 1776, and his return in 1782, the island of Guernsey had undergone great and important changes. The war with America had brought an influx of strangers; wealth and its attendant luxuries had superseded the simple mode of living of its inhabitants; society had extended; and when the peace took place, at the close of 1782, no spot of its size could display a greater appearance of prosperity, civilization, and beauty.
Between the years 1785 and 1787, the island was twice honoured with a visit from Prince William Henry, our present most gracious sovereign; and, however great the change had been in men and manners since it had beheld a prince of the blood on its shores, the loyalty of the islanders had sustained no diminution, and the arrival of the prince, then a lieutenant of the Hebe, Captain Thornborough, excited the most unbounded joy. Every one's heart glowed at seeing the son of a monarch whom they were accustomed to regard with veneration and love; and as people who lived in the habitual belief that to "fear God and honour the King" is a "united precept," every mark of respect and attachment was exhibited on both occasions. When his Royal Highness came the second time, as captain of the Pegasus, the homage, which had been paid to him at the first visit, as son of their sovereign, was mingled with respect to himself. Some there are who yet remember, and still delight to relate, the account of the elegant dejeune with which the illustrious prince entertained a party on board the Pegasus; after which his Royal Highness honoured Captain Saumarez and his brothers with his company at dinner, and attended a ball in the evening at the assembly-rooms.
In 1787, when Captain Saumarez had nearly attained his thirtieth year, peace seemed to be completely established. At an early age he had attained, by his own merit, the highest rank to which an officer could be advanced: he had fully established a character equally exalted for courage and professional talent; and having been, wherever Fortune had placed him, always in the best society, his manners as a gentleman were no less elegant than his person, which was tall and graceful, while his handsome features denoted a heart susceptible of the dictates both of humanity and love. It is not then to be wondered at, when he returned to his native island, that he still cherished an attachment which he had long formed; especially when he found her on whom he had fixed his affections, possessed of every quality which could ensure mutual happiness; neither can it appear surprising that on her part the regard should be equally warm and sincere.
The appearance of hostilities in the same year, however, occasioned a suspension of his matrimonial arrangements, as he was then appointed by Lord Howe to the command of the Ambuscade frigate, which he had scarcely fitted before she was ordered to be paid off, the hostile differences having been adjusted. He now returned to Guernsey, and, on the 8th October 1788, was united to Miss Martha Le Marchant, only daughter and heir of Thomas Le Marchant, Esq. by his marriage with Miss Mary Dobree, to the entire satisfaction of the families and relations on both sides.
The following extract of a private letter to his brother Richard, written a few days after his marriage, will give the reader a just idea of the feelings which occupied his mind on this happy occasion:
"It is needless," he says, "to attempt giving you any idea of my joy on this occasion. The abundant blessings which Providence is pleased to pour down on me, who am ever unworthy the least of its favours, makes my heart glow with boundless gratitude and love, which I hope ever to testify by a life strictly devoted to His service. To have the power of making her happy who has ever been the joy and delight of my soul, far surpasses all that I had ever formed of felicity in this world. I must also acknowledge the affectionate kindness of her relations, who have for ever attached me to them by the confidence they have placed in me."
These self-congratulations were, indeed, fully confirmed in after life; for few husbands have ever been blessed with such a devoted wife, or children with such an affectionate mother. During their younger days, and when their gallant father was at sea, Mrs. Saumarez lived retired, giving up her whole time to their instruction; and we can most fully testify that gratitude for her maternal anxiety, both for their spiritual and temporal welfare, has been indelibly impressed on all their hearts.
After passing some time at Guernsey, Captain Saumarez removed to the neighbourhood of Exeter, where he resided two years. In 1790, appearances of hostility took place. The Spanish armament was not to be lightly regarded. Captain Saumarez was appointed to command the Raisonable of 64 guns; but he never went to sea in this ship, the differences between the two nations having been amicably settled. It seemed to show, however, that, in the event of war, he was one of those who were to be actively employed.
Captain Saumarez remained on shore until the war occasioned by the French revolution broke out in 1793, when he was appointed to command the Crescent of 36 guns. His commission was dated on the 24th January, and he hoisted his pendant in her at Portsmouth on the 28th of the same month, receiving, at the same time, orders to place himself under the command of Commodore Sir Hyde Parker. No sooner was it known at Guernsey, and in Devonshire, that the Crescent was commissioned by Captain Saumarez, than a number equal to half the complement of seamen volunteered for the Crescent; and, on the 1st of February, the Tisiphone sloop was sent to bring the men from Guernsey, while the rest, from Exeter, were sent by the way of Plymouth to join the ship. It could not but be highly gratifying to his feelings when he found that so many of his countrymen had chosen to devote themselves to his service; and he was soon able to report his ship ready for sea.
On the 10th of February 1793, in common with other officers, he received the following intelligence that war had been declared against France.
By Sir Hyde Parker, Knt. &c.
Accounts having been received that war was declared at Paris, by the National Convention of France, against Great Britain and Holland; you are, in pursuance of the King's pleasure, signified to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty by the Right Honourable Henry Dundas, one of his Majesty's principal secretaries of state, hereby required and directed to seize or destroy all ships and vessels belonging to France that you may happen to fall in with.
Given under my hand, on board the Victory, this 10th day of February 1793. H. PARKER.
To Captain Saumarez, R.N.
The Crescent having been reported ready for sea on the 1st of March, Captain Saumarez received orders to proceed to Guernsey with his ship, accompanied by the Liberty brig, and three transports under convoy, to reinforce the garrisons of the Channel islands. He had also sealed orders, which were to be put in execution when the troops were landed at Guernsey and Jersey. The following account of this cruise was sent to his brother, on the ship's return to Guernsey Road.
H.M.S. Crescent, Guernsey, 18th March 1793.
MY DEAR RICHARD,
As the detail of our proceedings on our first cruise cannot but be acceptable to you, I take up my pen to communicate them. We anchored in this road on Sunday morning, the day after we had sailed from Spithead. The independent companies and invalids for this island were immediately disembarked. The wind being too much to the southward for the transports to proceed to Jersey, they remained till Thursday following, when I sent them under convoy of the Liberty brig.
On Thursday morning, intelligence was brought to me that a French brig was seen to the northward of the island, standing for the Casketts. I immediately got under way, and directed the Drake to do the same. We pushed through the Race of Alderney during the night, and at day-break found ourselves close to the brig, off Cherbourg. She is about 100 tons, from Vannes, loaded with salt, for Havre. Seeing another brig and a galliot to the N.W. from us, I ordered the Drake and Cockatrice to chase, and I have hopes they are also prizes.
About three o'clock, it blowing very hard, I was much surprised at an express joining me from Alderney, with a letter from the governor, addressed to the commander of H.M. ships off Alderney, mentioning that he had positive information that the enemy meant to attack the island this or the following night; and as there was no ship of force at Cherbourg but an old 64, with frigate's masts, he was certain that the appearance of a man-of-war off Cherbourg would preserve Alderney, and baffle the expedition. Chance having thrown me off Cherbourg, within sight the whole day, I was happy the purport of this letter was so fully answered. Expecting further intelligence, I waited till a cutter hailed us that he was going express to Plymouth. No other vessel appearing, I made sail for this island, and anchored in the road this morning. I have scarcely a doubt that what caused your brother to be alarmed was the appearance of this ship, the Drake and Cockatrice, with another small vessel in the Race of Alderney; and I am sorry it was not in my power to acquaint him with it, as the vessel he sent me returned immediately.
 Governor Le Mesurier was brother to Mrs. Richard Saumarez.
Captain Saumarez, on his return to Guernsey, wrote to Governor Le Mesurier, and, in reply to his letter, informed him that the appearance of the Crescent and squadron off Cherbourg had the desired effect of baffling the meditated attack on Alderney; nevertheless, the Crescent was detained on that station until the 25th, in consequence of other reports of the enemy's intentions to attack either Jersey or Alderney, and his squadron therefore was reinforced. In the mean time he succeeded in filling up the complement of his crew at Guernsey, and at length returned to Spithead, when some alteration took place in the armament of his ship: having there completed his stores and provisions, Captain Saumarez' next employment was to take a convoy of transports with troops to Cork, and bring from thence two regiments to Guernsey. This service occupied his ship until the 4th of May, when she arrived off the Lizard, and, having sent part of his convoy into Falmouth, he anchored at Guernsey on the following day.
He left Guernsey on the 15th of May, having six transports with French prisoners on board, and arrived at Spithead on the 17th.
On the 22nd Captain Saumarez received orders from the Admiralty to take the Hind, Captain Cochrane, under his command, and proceed with the Crescent and that ship to cruise between lat. 51 deg. and 47 deg. N. and long. 10 deg. to 16 deg. W. for the protection of the trade, and continue on that service for three weeks. The account of this cruise, in which two prizes were taken, is given in the following letter to his brother.
Crescent, Spithead, 26th June 1793.
MY DEAR RICHARD,
I have the pleasure to acquaint you with our return from a cruise which has been rather unsuccessful, having only taken (besides the brig I informed you of) a cutter called "Le Club de Cherbourg," of ten guns. She sailed from Brest on the 20th instant, and was found on the coast of Ireland, where she had done much mischief on her former cruise, having taken four vessels within a few days. I find by the prisoners that the French have only eighteen sail from Brest in readiness for sea. They rendezvous in Quiberon Bay as soon as they are equipped. I hope Lord Howe will soon give a good account of all of them. I anchored at Guernsey for a few hours, where I left the cutter for my brother's disposal.
As we have been parted from the Hind since the 8th instant, I hope to find she may have met with success. We are under agreement to share till the expiration of our cruise. As I write before we anchor, you cannot expect I should give you an account of my further destination; but, from what they informed me in the island, we are to go with Lord Howe, which hurried me from there. All the family were in perfect health at six o'clock on Tuesday evening, when I left them. We must now console ourselves with the hope that we shall soon terminate the business. I think this year will nearly do it. We anxiously sought for an opportunity similar to the Nymphe. We traversed the bay (Biscay) in every direction, without the appearance of a French ship; and on Monday we were all day in sight of Ushant, but could never meet with any but neutral vessels. Our next cruise may probably prove more fortunate. With my affectionate love to my sister and the children, I am, my dear Richard,
Yours truly, JAMES SAUMAREZ.
It will be seen by the date of this letter, that the Crescent had arrived at Spithead on the 26th, which is the date of his official letter to the Admiralty, giving an account of the capture of Le Club, which, being the same as already given, need not be repeated.
The Crescent, being replenished with water and provisions, was directed on the 4th July to take on board a quantity of specie for Plymouth, to which he sailed on the 5th, and, having delivered it there, took a convoy from thence to the Downs, where he arrived on the 18th July, and, according to further orders, returned with the trade under convoy from thence to Spithead on the 20th.
The following order, which Captain Saumarez received from the Lords of the Admiralty, will show the nature of the service on which he was now employed.
By the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland, &c.
You are to take his Majesty's ships named on the margin (Concorde and Thames) under your command, (their captains being directed to follow your orders,) and putting to sea with them and the Crescent, the moment the wind and weather will permit, proceed and cruise between the latitudes of 49 deg. and 50 deg. 30' north, and from sixty to one hundred leagues to the westward of the Scilly Islands, for the protection of the trade of his Majesty's subjects, and the annoyance of the enemy, taking all possible care of the above-mentioned frigates; and diligently looking out for, and using your best endeavours to fall in with, the homeward-bound convoys from Jamaica and the Leeward Islands, which are daily expected, and which are to be the principal objects of your attention.
In case of falling in with either of the said convoys, you are to see, or cause to be seen, such of the merchant ships or vessels as may be bound to Ireland, or into the Bristol Channel, as far as may be necessary for their security, and those bound into the English Channel, as far as the Start; and, having so done, return with the frigates under your command to the above-mentioned station, to look out for the other convoy; and, having met with it, to see, or cause to be seen, such of the merchant vessels as may be bound to Ireland, and into the Bristol Channel, as before directed, and to see those bound up the English Channel off their respective ports, as high as Spithead, where you are to remain until further orders, sending to our secretary an account of your arrival and proceedings.
You are to continue on the above-mentioned service until the 20th of next month, unless you shall have fallen in with both the said convoys sooner; when you are to make the best of your way to Spithead, and remain there as above directed.
Given under our hands, this 18th day of July 1793. CHATHAM, J. SMYTH, CHs. S. PYBUS.
To James Saumarez, Esq. &c. By command of their lordships. P. STEPHENS.
Captain Saumarez received at the same time information of the number of ships expected from the different islands in both the convoys, took the Concorde and Thames under his command, and sailed from Spithead on the 26th of July 1793.
Next to the command of a fleet, that of a squadron of frigates was at this period of the war considered the most important, and it could not but be highly gratifying to Captain Saumarez to find himself selected again for such a desirable command; but Fortune did not favour his little detachment. The convoys, which they had been sent to look out for and protect, had arrived safely at the respective ports before the squadron reached their destination, and they continued to cruise in vain within the prescribed limits of their station, till at length they were assailed by a tremendous gale from the south-east on the 17th of August, in which the Concorde parted company, the Thames lost her bowsprit and bore up for England, while the Crescent sprung her main-yard, and by a sudden shift of wind to the northward carried away her main-top-mast, and, her orders for returning into port having expired, she arrived at Spithead after an unsuccessful cruise.
The Crescent had not been in dock since the year 1785, and required much refitting: Captain Saumarez, therefore, on reporting his arrival to the Secretary of the Admiralty, sent also a statement of the ship's defects; in consequence of which, an order was sent for her to be docked at Portsmouth, and refitted for Channel service, while one hundred of her crew were lent to the Vanguard. As this process required a considerable time, Captain Saumarez sent for his family; and, having taken apartments at Ryde, had a few weeks of enjoyment in their society, and of relaxation from the arduous duties of his profession. The Crescent was received into dock on the 25th August, and was again fit for sea on the 10th October, when he received orders to hold himself ready to proceed at a moment's notice.
Crescent refitted.—Sails for the Channel Islands.—Falls in with the French frigate La Reunion.—Particular account of the action.—Letters from Captain Saumarez to his brother.—Brings his prize to Portsmouth.—Official letters.—Letters from various persons.—Ship refitting.—Captain Saumarez obtains leave of absence.—Is knighted for his gallant conduct.
The Crescent being now ready for sea, but with thirteen men short of her complement, Captain Saumarez applied to have the number filled up, as her masts and yards were of the same dimensions as those of a frigate of thirty-eight guns; he also requested such increase as the Lords of the Admiralty thought proper: but these applications were unsuccessful, and on the 10th of October he received orders from Sir Peter Parker, the port-admiral, to "hold himself in constant readiness to put to sea at a moment's warning;" and it was not long before the following order was received from the Admiralty.
By the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral, &c.
You are hereby required and directed to proceed in the ship under your command, without a moment's loss of time, to the islands of Guernsey and Jersey; and so soon as you shall have delivered the pacquets you will herewith receive, addressed to the commanding officers of his Majesty's troops serving in these islands, you are to repair with the said ship off St. Maloes, and use your best endeavours to obtain such information of the enemy's forces there, as circumstances will admit.
Having so done, you are to return with the said ship with all possible despatch, for further orders, transmitting to our secretary, for our information, by post-office express, an account of your arrival and proceedings.
Given under our hands, this 18th October 1793, A. GARDNER. J. SMYTH. P. AFFLECK.
To Captain Saumarez, R.N.
For several days previously to the 19th, it had been reported that a French frigate usually quitted the port of Cherbourg at night, and returned next morning with what prizes she had picked up: this, together with the information that an armament was preparing for the invasion of Jersey, caused Captain Saumarez to make extraordinary exertions to get to sea; and, although the wind was light, he fortunately succeeded in getting round St. Helens before night. Early on the morning, on the 20th, he was close to the light-house off Cape Barfleur.
ACTION BETWEEN THE CRESCENT AND REUNION.
This gallant action, which we are now about to describe, having been misrepresented in every account yet published, we have, in order to make the circumstances attending it more easily understood, illustrated the positions by a diagram, showing the masterly manoeuvre performed by the Crescent, and the relative situation of the ships at the commencement and the end of the conflict. The engraving shows the state and situation of the two ships at the time the Reunion surrendered.
During the night, the wind had been so far to the westward as to enable the Crescent to fetch Cape Barfleur, while the Reunion, which left Cherbourg in the evening, stood to the northward, in hopes of meeting with merchant-ships coming up Channel. The two frigates, therefore, must have crossed each other at no great distance; but the wind having changed towards the south about daylight, and the French frigate being unable to fetch back to Cherbourg, broke off with her head to the eastward, while the Crescent, by coming up on the opposite tack, was enabled to weather and get in shore of the enemy.
Shortly after day-break Captain Saumarez saw two sail standing on the starboard tack towards the Crescent, and it appears that they had approached her within two miles before they discovered themselves to be under the lee of an English frigate: they then tacked and made all sail, either for the purpose of trying to escape, or to approach nearer to Cherbourg, that they might have the assistance of their consort then in the harbour with her sails hoisted up. It was soon evident that the Crescent, now "clean out of dock," had the advantage in sailing; and, by half-past ten, Captain Saumarez, by edging down, took his position on the enemy's larboard quarter within pistol-shot, when the action began.
Captain John Tancock, who was then a midshipman stationed on the main-deck, says that the men had directions to fire at the rudder of their opponent, which was very soon disabled, while the main-topsail-yard and fore-yard were both shot away. The enemy fired so high that scarcely any shot struck the hull of the Crescent; but, consequently, her fore-topsail-yard, and soon afterwards her fore-top-mast, fell over the starboard gangway. Hitherto the ship had been kept in her first position by backing and filling the mizen-topsail, but now she came to, and eventually came round: but Captain Saumarez, whose presence of mind never forsook him, brailed up the mizen, and, by keeping all the square-sails aback, gave the ship a stern-board; at the same time, by keeping the helm up, she wore round on her heel, obtaining a position under the stern and on the starboard quarter, while the enemy was lying with his yards square and totally unmanageable. This manoeuvre is shown in the diagram, to which an explanation is added.
C. The Crescent. R. The Reunion. 1. Commencement of the action. 2. The Crescent's track in wearing on her heel. 3. The position when the Reunion struck.
In passing under the enemy's stern, it was observed that his colours had been shot away, and, supposing he had struck, the firing ceased; but, on coming round on the starboard quarter, the enemy again opened his fire. The Crescent, having now got her larboard guns to bear, returned his broadside with such effect, that at twenty minutes past noon the officers of the Reunion waved their hats and flags to indicate that they had surrendered. The engraving represents the situation of the two ships at this moment; and Captain Sir Thomas Mansel, who was then a midshipman, declares it to be correct.
The combat now ceased, and the prize was taken possession of by Lieutenant (now Admiral) Sir George Parker, who received the usual order to carry her into port. The French captain being sent on board the Crescent, they began to remove the prisoners and repair damages. When the action began, a ship had been seen under the land to the eastward, about four leagues distant; this was supposed to be an enemy: but it turned out to be the Circe, Captain Yorke, who joined four hours after the action, and took part of the prisoners. In the mean time the cutter made off towards Cherbourg, out of which harbour the wind and adverse tide prevented the other frigate, said to be La Semillante, from getting to assist the Reunion.
The following very concise official letter to the Secretary of the Admiralty from Captain Saumarez, supplies the rest of the detail.
Crescent, off Cherbourg, 20th October 1793.
I have the honour to acquaint you, for the information of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that this morning, being off Cape Barfleur in his Majesty's ship Crescent, under my command, I fell in with a French frigate, which, after a close action of two hours and ten minutes, struck to his Majesty's colours: she proved to be the Reunion, mounting thirty-six guns, and manned with three hundred and twenty men.
I am singularly happy in being able to inform their lordships that she has been obtained without the loss of a single man, or even any wounded, although her own loss has been very considerable indeed, having, as the prisoners informed me, one hundred and twenty killed and wounded.
I must beg leave to render the most ample justice to the officers and ship's company of the Crescent, for their cool and steady behaviour during the action; and I take this opportunity to recommend to their lordships' notice the three lieutenants, Messrs. Parker, Otter, and Rye: their conduct has afforded me the utmost satisfaction.
I have the honour to be, With the greatest respect, sir, Your most obedient and very humble servant, JAMES SAUMAREZ.
To Philip Stephens, Esq. Admiralty.
P.S.—The Reunion was accompanied by a cutter, which did not attempt to come into action, but made for Cherbourg.
Captain Saumarez was now on his passage to Portsmouth, where he had left his wife and infant children only two days before, in pursuit of an implacable enemy known to be not many leagues distant! It was the first battle he had fought since he became a husband and a father; and his feelings, as he returned triumphantly to the bosom of his family, can be easier imagined than described.
The anxiety and excitement inseparable from the day of battle had subsided, the prisoners had been removed, the captive Frenchmen with whom he had been sympathizing had retired, and he was at length left alone to meditate on that remarkable dispensation of Divine favour which had been so fully and especially manifested towards him: he had gloriously wrested from an enemy, fighting under the proud banner of liberty, a ship equal to his own in weight of metal and superior by seventy men in numbers, after a furious contest of above two hours, without a man being hurt by his opponent, who lost one hundred and twenty men killed and wounded: a fact unparalleled in the page of history. With the generality of mankind, such circumstances were well calculated to raise feelings of proud exultation; but these were never cherished in the breast of Saumarez. Having done all in his power to soothe the affliction of his vanquished enemy, his first impulse was to offer up his thanksgivings and acknowledgments to the great GIVER of all victory, and to implore that his mind might not be too highly elevated by his glorious success. After despatching his unpresuming letter to the Admiralty, which has been already given, he wrote to his brother, in London, the following letter:
Crescent, 21st Oct. 1793.
MY DEAR RICHARD,
You will rejoice with me at the success that has attended our short cruise. On Saturday evening we sailed from Spithead; and the next morning, being about three leagues from Cape Barfleur, we saw two sail standing towards us from under Cherbourg, which I soon discovered to be a French frigate and a cutter. We were on the larboard tack with the wind off shore; I was happy in being able to keep between them and the land. When about two miles from us, the frigate tacked with all her sail set, and the cutter made sail to windward: we edged down to her, and at a cable's distance, at half-past ten, began the action, which continued with scarcely any intermission two hours and ten minutes.
Both ships were soon cut up in their sails and rigging, our fore-topsail yard being shot away, and soon after the fore-top-mast; the ship came to, and wearing on the other tack, gave us an opportunity to fire our guns, which were so well served that the French ship soon became unmanageable, and enabled us to rake her fore and aft; in which situation she struck her colours. I must observe that they had been before shot away, and, imagining she had struck, I gave orders to cease firing; she, however, soon relieved us of our suspense by giving us her broadside: we were so well prepared, and kept up so good a fire, that in a short time after they waved their colours and made signs from the gunwale with their hats that they had struck.
I immediately sent Mr. Parker to take possession of the ship, and send the first and second captains on board the Crescent. They informed me that the ship they had surrendered was La Reunion, mounting thirty-six guns and three hundred and twenty-one men. When we came into action, another frigate was in sight to the eastward, which we took to be her consort; we therefore lost no time to exchange prisoners, and repair our damages, in the best manner we could: she, however, proved to be the Circe, and joined us four hours after the action ceased.
The circumstance that has made me most happy from this engagement is, that we have not had a single person hurt by the enemy, and but one man injured, who had his leg fractured by the recoil of a gun. There being little wind the sea was perfectly calm; and I had the satisfaction to observe that most of our shot were perfectly well directed. The enemy's frigate is indeed most sadly a wreck, thirty-four men killed and eighty-four wounded, many of them mortally; one officer only has suffered, being badly wounded. She was commanded by Citizen Denain, capitaine de vaisseau, to whose obstinacy they ascribe the sacrifice of many lives.
It is unnecessary for me to observe, my dear Richard, the great happiness I derive from the consciousness that this event will afford you and all our friends particular satisfaction. My dear Martha, too,—I scarcely know how I shall disclose the circumstance to her; it embarrasses me as much as if it were a mournful subject. One observation is incumbent on me to make, namely, that Captain Yorke used every possible exertion to join us sooner, and that he has most readily afforded us every assistance we required,
I now remain, your ever affectionate brother, JAS. SAUMAREZ.
Captain Saumarez had now realized his ardent desire for an opportunity of distinguishing himself, such as was afforded to his gallant brother-officer of the Nymphe; and it is a singular coincidence that each should have written to his brother on the day of action, under similar circumstances of triumph and excitement. These interesting documents seem to have decided the superiority of the British over the French navy, at the commencement of the French revolution, and in reference to that of Saumarez, we cannot but dwell with admiration on the humility and acuteness of feeling with which it is replete!
The Circe, which had joined four hours after the action, was despatched to Guernsey to execute the service on which Captain Saumarez had been ordered; but the Crescent and her prize, in proceeding to Spithead, were detained by light winds and calms. On the 22nd, she arrived off the Isle of Wight, when Lieutenant Otter was sent to Portsmouth in the boat with the following official letter:
Crescent, off the Isle of Wight, 22d Oct. 1793.
I BEG you will be pleased to inform my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that, being unable to gain Spithead from the prevailing calms, I have thought it expedient to despatch Lieutenant Otter with the intelligence I have the honour to convey to their lordships.
Having been prevented by the action with La Reunion from complying with their lordships' orders, I directed the Hon. Captain Yorke, who joined me in his Majesty's ship Circe, to proceed with the pacquets I was charged with for the commanding officers of his Majesty's troops at Guernsey and Jersey, and from thence to proceed to St. Maloes, and return to Spithead, agreeable to their lordships' orders.
I beg to observe, that Captain Yorke gave me every possible assistance, and has taken one hundred and sixty prisoners from the Reunion, which I directed him to land in the island of Guernsey.
I have the honour to be, sir, Your most humble servant, JAS. SAUMAREZ.
To Philip Stephens, Esq.
The Crescent arrived at Spithead on the following day, and with her prize was ordered into harbour; the former to have her damages repaired, and the latter to be surveyed and purchased for his Majesty's service.
Before we submit the interesting official and private letters which Captain Saumarez received on his arrival, and which may be considered as the best proof of the sensation which this gallant action created, it becomes our duty to state the comparative force of the two frigates. Weight of Crescent. No. Size. No. Size. No. Size. Total. metal. Broadside guns 13 18pr. 4 18pr. car. 1 9pr. 36 315lbs. Reunion. Broadside guns 13 14pr. 3 40pr. car. 4 7pr. 40 330lbs. Difference of guns, and of weight of shot in favour of La Reunion 4 15lbs. Crescent. Men 257 Tons 888 Reunion. Men 320 Tons 951 Difference in favour of La Reunion 63 63 N.B. The weight has been reduced to English pounds.
The Crescent lost her fore-top-mast; her sails and rigging were much damaged, but very few shot struck her hull; and the only man hurt was at the first broadside, when his leg was fractured by the recoil of a gun.
La Reunion, on the contrary, had many shot in her hull, and her stern was very much shattered. After she was in dock, we saw where a shot had entered the starboard quarter, and made its way out of the larboard bow. It was said to have killed and wounded twenty-one men! The head of her rudder and wheel were shot away, and the fore-yard and main-topsail-yard came down early in the action: she was, in short, a complete wreck, as represented in the plate. The hopes that the ship seen to the eastward under the land was a friend, induced the French captain to delay surrendering after defence could no longer be effectual.
The head-money was only paid for three hundred men; but there was no doubt that three hundred and twenty-one were on board at the commencement of the action, as many of the slain were thrown overboard, and the French officers, for obvious reasons, wished to make their force less than it was. According to Captains Tancock and Mansell, forty men were killed, and eighty wounded. The cutter which was in company, believed to be L'Esperance, mounting fourteen guns, made off for Cherbourg with sweeps and sails as soon as the firing commenced. La Reunion's consort, believed to be the Semillante, made an attempt to get out of Cherbourg, but was prevented by the tide, when she sent a boat full of men, it was supposed, to reinforce the former, but which returned when it was observed that her fate was decided. The French shore, only five miles distant, was crowded with spectators.
There is no action between two single ships on record, where consummate skill in naval tactics has been so brilliantly and successfully displayed as in that which we have just described. The patriotic reader must not imagine that, because the Crescent had "none" either killed or wounded, the captain and officers of La Reunion did not do their utmost, and far less that they were deficient in courage. The severe loss they sustained, and the obstinacy with which their ship was defended, has fully proved their bravery. Had the Crescent at once boarded the Reunion, which was in her power, and carried her sword in hand, as in the case of the Nymphe and Cleopatre, it would have been perhaps better calculated to excite feelings of admiration in the general reader, who is not acquainted with naval affairs; but this mode of attack is one which, we must acquaint them, might readily be made by any officer moderately skilled in naval tactics. It is where the commander of a ship, by his presence of mind and skilful manoeuvring, succeeds in the defeat and capture of an enemy, that the superiority is manifest; and it is to him who has thus proved that he possesses the tact to accomplish his object, and yet spare the valuable lives of his men, that the meed of praise is most justly due.
Crescent, Spithead, 23rd October 1793.
I beg you will be pleased to inform my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty of my arrival at Spithead in H.M. ship Crescent, under my command, and the prize La Reunion, and from thence into Portsmouth Harbour, conformable with orders from Sir Peter Parker.
I have the honour to be, Your obedient humble servant, JAMES SAUMAREZ.
To Philip Stephens, Esq.
Admiralty, October 24th, 1793.
I learnt yesterday with great satisfaction the account of your action with the French frigate La Reunion, and beg to congratulate you very sincerely on your success on this occasion. The greatest praise seems due to the bravery and good conduct of the officers and men of the Crescent. I shall be extremely happy, as soon as it is convenient to you, to have the pleasure of seeing you in town, and of presenting you to his Majesty on an occasion so highly honourable to you. I am, sir,
Your very faithful humble servant, CHATHAM. (First Lord of the Admiralty.)
To Captain Saumarez.
Admiralty, 24th October 1793.
I was this morning so happy as to receive your letter, conveying the agreeable account of your having captured the French frigate La Reunion, and which I lost no time in communicating to Lord Chatham, who will himself express to you his very high sense of your distinguished conduct, as well as his great satisfaction at the account you have given of the exemplary and gallant behaviour of your officers and men. I beg, my dear sir, to congratulate you most sincerely on an event which adds such lustre to your professional character, at the same time that it entitles you to every reward from your country, and
I remain, with great regard, Your very faithful and obedient humble servant, J. HUNT. (Private Secretary.)
To Captain Saumarez, &c.
St. James's-square, 24th October 1793.
Lord Chatham was so obliging as to acquaint me yesterday with your success, and at the same time with his fullest approbation of your conduct, which you may be assured gave me great pleasure. I have this day the favour of your letter, and thank you for your kind attention in informing me of what you might be confident would give me particular satisfaction.
I am, with great regard, sir, Your obedient humble servant, AMHERST.
To Captain James Saumarez.
FROM THE REV. R.B. NICHOLLS. 28th October 1793, Middleham, Yorkshire.
Accept my warmest congratulations on your late very extraordinary and glorious success, which I consider as a signal favour and blessing upon you from the God of armies, whom I invoke, and shall ever, on your behalf, that the path of happiness and glory, temporal and eternal, may be successfully trodden by you, and that you may long live an example of the blessings that Heaven has for a Cornelius. Continue me in your friendly remembrance, which I shall ever consider as an honour.
I am, dear sir, Your most affectionate and most obedient humble servant, R.B. NICHOLLS.
To Captain Saumarez, &c.
Portsmouth, 30th October 1793.
I am infinitely obliged to you for your kindness and attention to George Parker. I have not as yet heard from Lord Chatham, but suppose I shall in a day or two. This morning I reckon you will kiss hands, and return home "Sir James." Such an honour obtained on such an occasion is worthy the solicitation of a duke. If anything material occurs, be so good to favour me with a line. Lady Parker unites in every good wish for your rib and yourself, with
Yours, most sincerely, P. PARKER.
To Captain Saumarez.
Captain Saumarez, after a happy visit to his family at Ryde, repaired to London, on leave of absence; and, on being presented to his Majesty, received the well-merited honour of knighthood, and his first lieutenant (now Admiral Sir) George Parker, was promoted to the rank of master and commander. Sir James, having applied for an extension of his leave, enjoyed the society of his friends in London until the 14th of November, when he and Lady Saumarez returned to their family at Ryde. The following letter to his brother, descriptive of other marks of respect which had been paid to him, will be read with interest:
Ryde, Isle of Wight, 16th Nov. 1793.
MY DEAR BROTHER,
It was not before yesterday that we were enabled to return to our little treasure in this island, owing to official business and the badness of the weather. We found all in perfect good health except our little girl, who has been for some time very unwell, and has suffered exceedingly; she is at present rather better, and we hope her disorder is past its height. Mr. Le Marchant has fixed for next Monday to leave the island. I shall endeavour to accompany them to Southampton, and, after that, trust to opportunities hereafter offering to enable me to see them at Bath.
I do not expect the Crescent will be ready to leave the harbour before the middle of next week; what our destination will then be must remain uncertain. Sir John Jarvis has this morning made the signal for sailing, and it is expected will put to sea on Monday or Tuesday next. I mean to return to Portsmouth to-day or to-morrow, that I may have an opportunity of seeing General Dundas before his departure.
Our last letters from the island (Guernsey) are of the 6th; no particular news. You will be concerned to hear of the fate of the unlucky Thames; when the particulars are received, I am persuaded it will be found that the ship has not been given away. The report is, that, after a severe action with a six-and-thirty, she was next day attacked by the Carmagniolle, to which ship she struck. Sir E. Pellew is cruising with the Circe off St. Maloes; the French have no ships at present at Cherbourg.
Yesterday I received a very polite letter from Mr. Marsham, inclosing the resolution of the 14th instant from the committee for encouraging the capture of French privateers, voting me a piece of plate, value one hundred guineas, which I consider a very high compliment paid to my earnest endeavours. But I am not quite so well pleased with a letter from Mr. Cooke, who has the distribution of the fees which he says are due from those who receive the honour of knighthood, and which amount to 103l. 6s. 8d. In reply to this, I have referred him to whoever paid the above fees for Sir E. Pellew, on whom that honour was conferred on a similar occasion. I fear it may not be taken well; at the same time, I think it hard to pay so much for an honour which my services have been thought to deserve.
Captain Parker came down to Portsmouth last Thursday, without having obtained an interview with Lord Chatham. I am, however, persuaded he will soon get a ship. The other arrangements are not yet made. Mr. Warren has gone to London, to endeavour to get over the difficulty of not having served his rated time; if he does, he is to be third lieutenant.
You must now permit me to return you and my dear sister our most sincere thanks for the kind hospitality we experienced under your roof; we not only ate of your board and drank of your cup, but you gave us your very bed to repose on: when shall we have it in our power to requite such goodness? At any rate, receive this tribute of our warmest gratitude.
I hope your dear children, whom we almost considered as ours, are very well: bestow on them a thousand kisses from us. With our most sincere love, I remain, my dear brother,
Ever affectionately yours, JAS. SAUMAREZ.
On the 22nd of November, the Crescent came out of harbour, and was reported ready for sea; and Sir James Saumarez was now ready to proceed, and to add fresh laurels to those he had so gloriously gained in the service of his king and country.
Sir James Saumarez is placed under the orders of Admiral McBride.—Is detached, and attacks an Enemy's squadron.—Narrow Escape from Shipwreck.—Off Havre.—Cherbourg.—Private Letters relating the particulars of several Cruises on the French coast.—Gallant Action with a French squadron of superior force off Guernsey.
Sir James was now placed under the orders of Admiral McBride, who gave him the command of a squadron, consisting of the Crescent and Druid, frigates, Liberty brig, and Lion cutter. The first service he had to perform was to carry a small convoy of transports with troops, &c. to Guernsey and Jersey, and furthermore to obtain pilots for the admiral's squadron.
We shall not attempt to describe the enthusiastic reception which Sir James and his gallant crew received from their loyal and patriotic countrymen in these islands; but his stay was short. Despatching the Liberty to reconnoitre St. Maloes, he proceeded to Jersey, and, having reconnoitred Granville, returned to Guernsey Roads on the 28th of November, when he detached the Lion with pilots to the admiral; and, pursuant to orders, sailed to the adjacent coast of France to assist the royalists.
The following is his account of an attempt to attack a French squadron in the bay of Brehat.
Crescent, off Guernsey, 7th Dec. 1793.
I have the honour to acquaint you, that pursuant to your orders I sailed from Guernsey Roads the night of the 5th instant, in his Majesty's ship Crescent, under my command, together with the Druid frigate and Liberty brig. The wind being to the southward, we were unable to fetch to windward off Cape Frehel in the morning; and observing several sail at anchor off the isles of Brehat, particularly two large ships and a brig, in a bay to the northward, which there appeared a great probability of attacking with success, I stood in for them; but the tide of ebb setting us to the westward, prevented our fetching into the bay, and enabled the enemy's ships to get under way with the first of the flood, and save themselves between the rocks. We were however in time to fire several shot at the largest, which, as well as the others, appeared armed en flute and deeply laden.
Finding it impossible to follow them without endangering his Majesty's ships, I stood out of the bay through a passage which both the pilots I had on board assured me was perfectly safe.
We soon found ourselves deceived, perceiving several rocks which we with difficulty cleared. Unfortunately the Druid, (which I hailed to acquaint her of the danger,) in wearing, tailed on a sunken rock; and, although she floated in a few minutes, she has I fear received so much damage as to require her to be taken into dock.
I have directed Captain Ellison, whose activity and exertions cannot be too highly praised, to proceed to Plymouth, and the Liberty to accompany him into the Sound, and rejoin you without loss of time.
I am, with every respect, sir, Your obedient and most humble servant, JAS. SAUMAREZ.
Rear-admiral John McBride.
On Sir James's arrival at Guernsey, he addressed the following letter to his brother in London, which continues the narrative of his proceedings on that dangerous coast.
MY DEAR RICHARD,
I take the first opportunity to send you an account of an enterprise which, had it been attended with success, would have proved fortunate indeed. Not having time to send you the particulars, I have enclosed a copy of my letter to the admiral, which you will show to M. Le Mesurier. I have only to add, that the object in view justified the attempt; but, as the world too often forms its judgment from events, I fear we shall not acquire much credit for the attempt.
At midnight, we providentially escaped getting wrecked on the Rocks Douvre, in steering after the Druid. We were warned of our perilous situation by the noise of the breakers, and had only time to avoid them. In short, my dear friend, when I consider our disappointment, and the very wonderful escapes we have had, it is almost too much for me, and I can only be thankful things are not worse.
Accounts have lately arrived from the army of the royalists, that they are in possession of Rennes, and we have reason to expect soon to hear of their having a seaport wherein we can land the reinforcement. Four French frigates have been in sight of the island these two days; the more mortifying as we cannot detach after them without leaving the troops embarked unprotected. An expedition of this consequence should have at least the support of two ships of the line.
Be careful that nothing that I write to you transpires. I have lately seen paragraphs which have given me concern, particularly one mentioning my being ordered off St. Maloes. Be assured they may occasion much mischief and distrust, if it can be imagined that they originate from any of my friends. My brother has shown me the P.S. of your letter to him: I think it best the plate should be confined to a dinner-set, as I am unwilling to separate the whole of a present so handsomely bestowed; therefore, if not too late, I wish you to direct accordingly. Lady S. writes to me that our dear little girl is better; I wish to hear that she is sufficiently well to be inoculated. I shall be happy to have it over.
You are a long time without writing to me. Although I know you are most hurried at this time, you must forgive me if I desire you will devote a few spare minutes to me; my sister, I am sure, will consent to it. Assure her of my sincere love; and believe me truly, My dear Richard,
Yours affectionately, JAMES SAUMAREZ.
P.S.—We are close ship-keepers, being all on board by six o'clock; a very proper regulation. I do not expect to sail before the fleet proceeds to the French coast, when I hope our accounts will prove more favourable.
We have here two other remarkable instances, where on sudden and unexpected danger appearing, the presence of mind and professional skill of Saumarez saved his ship and squadron from destruction; and although the bold attempt he made to attack the enemy was unsuccessful, he does not less deserve the merit of making it, for we cannot command the wind and tide.
The Crescent continued to cruise with Admiral McBride's squadron during the winter, making several attempts to assist the royalists on various places on the coast of France, and annoying the enemy's coasting trade.
The following letters from Sir James to his brother in London, give a particular account, in his own words, of the arduous services on which he was employed during that time.
Crescent, Cowes Roads, 25th January 1794.
MY DEAR RICHARD,
You will not expect so soon to hear from me, but I must just give you a journal of our short cruise. The day after we sailed from here, we chased three armed brigs off Havre, which were very near captured by the Flora and this ship. The day following, Sir John Warren having detached me and La Nymphe to look into Cherbourg, on the very spot where La Reunion fell into our hands, we were on the point of taking a French frigate, apparently of twenty-eight or thirty-two guns. The wind at first flattered us with the hope of cutting her off from the land, when it shifted and enabled her to get into Cherbourg: they were decidedly frightened, and kept firing guns as signals to their ships in the bay, which never attempted to come out to their assistance, although we were alone, as La Nymphe was scarcely discernible from this ship. The next day La Nymphe sprung her fore-mast, which obliged her to return to Spithead.
I appeared close to Cherbourg all day yesterday, in the hope of drawing their ships out, which I plainly discerned to consist of six frigates, four of which were large. In the evening it coming on to blow hard, and no appearance of our ships, I stood off shore, and at noon this day, it blowing a severe storm, I anchored in this road. Admiral McBride having consented to my going to Bath for twenty-four hours, I am setting off with all speed: not having time to add more, I remain, with my kindest love, My dear Richard,
Yours ever affectionately, JAS. SAUMAREZ. Sunday Morning.
P.S.—I really intended to write to the Lord Mayor, but have not a moment's time; I shall therefore leave you to acquaint him with our return here.
We may stop here to mention, that in the debate in the House of Commons on the address to the King's speech at the opening of parliament, the gallant conduct of Sir James Saumarez was mentioned in terms of admiration, and his late action quoted as a remarkable instance of the superiority of our naval commanders in professional talent and skill; the account of this had been transmitted to him from London by his brother Richard.
Cowes, 2nd February 1794.
MY DEAR RICHARD,
I left my dearest concerns yesterday morning, and arrived here this afternoon, after a six hours' storm, from Southampton. Both your kind letters afford me infinite satisfaction. When I wrote to you on Sunday, I had not the admiral's consent to remain till I heard from him, and only expected to remain twenty-four hours in Bath; but depended, nevertheless, on hearing from you there. You must therefore desire my sister to plead in your behalf, when she writes to Lady S.
I am much flattered at my name having been found worthy of notice in the House of Commons, and I thank you for the praise you bestow on me for the business of our last cruise. Though we failed in taking the frigate, it was certainly a matter of exultation and triumph to me, in a single ship, thus to brave the enemy off their port.
I find Sir John Warren has sent in an armed brig, which we were prevented from sharing, at the time we were in pursuit of the frigate: we decoyed her to within a small distance from us by showing French colours, and I am persuaded we should have taken her, if we had chased her instead of the frigate; and they ought in justice to allow us to share in the profits of this prize.
I would advise you to wait till Donaldson's plates come out for your paintings. Let me caution you against purchasing any of the prints, as I have engaged fifteen sets for my friends, in order to have proof engravings.
Tom writes to me they are under serious apprehensions for the island. I own to you I think there is some cause, unless we keep a strong squadron for their defence; at the same time, I do not believe they have so strong a force as mentioned, or that they are making preparation for invading this country. Let me know what has become of Mr. Warren, and whether Captain Parker has sailed.
I must now wish you and my sister, and all under your roof, a good night. And
I remain truly, Yours affectionately, Monday morning. JAS. SAUMAREZ.
P.S.—Our admiral has not yet made his appearance, a vessel is gone to Portsmouth for him. The packet returns so speedily that it is next to impossible to answer letters the same day.
 Sir James's brother.
Crescent, Spithead, 24th February 1794.
MY DEAR RICHARD,
You will be pleased to hear of our being safe in port in the midst of the prevailing storms, but not without our having previously felt their rigour. Last Thursday morning we carried away our main-top-mast; and, in going to Torbay soon after, we sprung our fore-yard, which made the admiral determine to send us to Spithead to refit, and afterwards join him with all possible despatch. We are just anchored; but it blows so very hard, there is no possibility of sending a boat on shore.
I left the squadron anchored in Torbay yesterday evening, where they are well sheltered from the present very high wind. Let me hear from you, if possible, by the next post. Not expecting to be ordered here, I wrote to Lady S. yesterday morning, desiring her to direct to me there; and would have written to you to the same purpose, but that I expected to have sent my letters from here by this evening's post, which would have reached you equally soon.
I think this weather will, for the present at least, let us sleep in tranquillity, and make our enemies set aside their projected invasion. Let them attempt it when they will, I shall view it as a desirable event for this country. But I am not of that opinion with regard to our islands.
God bless you, and preserve them all! Let us deserve well, and there is nothing that we may not confidently expect from his providence. And, with my sincere love,
I am ever affectionately yours, JAS. SAUMAREZ.
P.S. Sunday morning.—I availed myself of a favourable time this morning to come on shore, and have just received a letter stating that the Liberty had been chased by two frigates off the Casketts.
The following letter gives an account of his visit to the island of Jersey, &c.
Bouley Bay, Jersey, 30th March 1794.
MY DEAR RICHARD,
I have at length had an opportunity of visiting this island, the admiral having detached this ship and the Druid to look into Cancalle Bay and Granville. It falling calm on Thursday evening, we anchored in St. Owen's Bay; and, next morning, Captain Ellison and myself went on shore to wait on Lord Balcarras. We called on Mr. Dumaresq on our way to St. Hilliers, who most obligingly assisted us with horses, and accompanied us to town after having engaged us to dinner. I had just time to call on our friends John Durell and Mr. Wm. Dumaresq, who were very kind in their offers of service. We then returned to St. Peter's, and I shall ever be thankful for one of the most pleasant days I have passed since I commanded the Crescent. Lord Balcarras and his aides-de-camp were the only strangers; Major and Mrs. Le Couteur were of the party; and they were all to have favoured me with their company on board the following day, had not untoward circumstances prevented that pleasure. In the evening we had so thick a fog that it was impossible to join the ships; and at day-break we had the mortification to find, that, the wind having come to the southward, they had found it necessary to leave the bay. They however soon made their appearance, and with some difficulty I got on board.
The weather not permitting our going on the French coast, I anchored in this bay, and detached a lugger with the third lieutenant, which will execute the service better than we could in the ships. They are here greatly relieved from their fears by knowing our squadron is so near them; and the ladies that at first emigrated are now returning. Write to me by the packet to Guernsey.
When we can ascertain the force at Cancalle, I hope we shall find ourselves of sufficient strength to pay them a visit. If the emissaries are to be credited, they are disembarking their troops, and marching against the royalists in La Vendee.
I hope my sister continues well, as when I left you. And, with kindest love,
I remain, yours ever affectionately, JAS. SAUMAREZ.
Sunday evening.—P.S. Mr. French, third lieutenant, is this moment returned. He reports that eleven sail of frigates are in Cancalle Bay only;—not the least appearance of ships of the line.
After remaining some time on this dangerous station, the Crescent and squadron returned to Plymouth, when Sir James Saumarez was employed on the expedition under Earl Moira, which need not be detailed here. On the 11th May he received orders to take a squadron under his command, to cruise off the Lizard. The following letter is relative to this cruise:
Crescent, at sea, 14th May, 1794.
Pursuant to your directions, I dispatch the Mary cutter to Plymouth for any orders you may be pleased to send me, and I avail myself of this opportunity to acquaint you with the proceedings of the squadron from the time of our departure.
We made sail to the southward on Sunday night, and saw nothing except two neutral vessels. One of them was informed by Sir Richard Strachan, that on the 6th instant he fell in with a squadron of French frigates in lat. 47 deg. 50' N., long. 6 deg. 15' W.
Yesterday morning, about eighteen leagues to the southward of the Lizard, the weather having proved hazy, on clearing up we saw a ship and a brig, which we soon distinguished to be enemy's cruisers. I made the signal for general chase, and endeavoured to cut them off from the French coast. We pursued them till within four miles of Ushant, when they escaped through the passage De Four. I then made the best of my way to regain the station; and we are now anxiously looking for the frigates we sailed in pursuit of, with the hopes of better success.
I beg to assure you of my most earnest endeavours to merit the confidence you are pleased to repose in me; being, with great truth, My dear Admiral,
Your most faithful and obedient servant, JAS. SAUMAREZ.
To Admiral McBride, Plymouth.
It was in the interval between December 1793 and June 1794, that Sir James Saumarez and Sir Edward Pellew, and Sir John Warren, being each in command of squadrons of frigates, agreed to share prize-money until the latter should return to port, which did not take place until June. It is notorious in the navy that this led to a dispute, and consequently a coolness, between these gallant officers, but the misunderstanding was subsequently made up, and need not be farther alluded to.