Sayfadaki görseller
PDF
ePub

a

half a dozen made good their escape. This device was afterwards employed by the enemy, and unfortunately with some success. No man ever possessed a kinder heart than Shovel, but his strict attention to the discipline of the service raised against him among the seamen the charge of austerity; this was a disguised tribute to his ability, for the sailors of those days were rude, brutish fellows, not devoid of gratitude indeed, but prisoners, not volunteers. The press-gang was not particular as to the men it collected, and it was difficult to get good seamen. The merchants secured all the willing hands by offering extravagant wages, and an Act of Parliament forbade the impressing of men from privateers, merchantmen, and colliers, which encouraged sick men, as soon as they could crawl from their quarters, to scramble up to London and enter themselves on a Newcastle voyage. To remedy this, regiments of marines were stationed at Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Chatham, naval reserves, from which the ships' complements could be filled up; while “to encourage the fidelity of the seamen” William began to build Greenwich Hospital. In spite of this, the French fleets were always better manned.

While Herbert, now created Lord Torrington in reward of his services, was coolly watching the French crippling and sinking the Dutch allies off Beachy Head, Sir Cloudesley Shovel was at the other end of the Channel in command of a small squadron, and therefore had no share in the obloquy of that defeat. It is interest ing to note, as an instance of historical accuracy, that when the triumphant enemy descended on Teignmouth and burnt three colliers, this was magnified by the French annalists into the destruction of four men-of-war, and eight“ richly-laden merchantmen.”

The battle of La Hogue, like the more famous one at Trafalgar, by destroying the French fleet, rendered useless the army of invasion collected on the coast. Tourville challenged a combat in the belief that he would meet only the English squadron, and that a halfhearted one. Apparently he was in a minority of sixty-three to ninety-nine, and after the action Louis had a medal struck representing himself looking on with complacency at the destruction of his fleet, with the motto “Ne Hercules adversus duos.” As a matter of fact, part of the confederate fleet were unable to take any active part in the battle. The struggle began with a representative duel carried on within musket-shot between Tourville in the Soleil Royal of 104 guns, the finest ship in Europe, and Russell in the Britannia of 100 guns. The French guns were superior in quality, but the English aim was better, and they fired three broadsides to the enemy's two, and before

[ocr errors]

a

a

very long the Soleil Royal had to be towed out of action, and was afterwards burnt to the water's edge at Cherbourg. In the first act of the battle Captain Hastings, of the Sandwich, being mortally wounded, the command devolved upon Bernard Darby, the first lieutenant; but that poor wretch, who had been master of a small craft employed by “the libeller Daniel Foe,” when he was a trader, flung himself down on his face on the quarter-deck and refused to perform his duties till the rest of the officers threatened to throw him overboard. As often happens, five hours of heavy firing caused a lull in the wind and a fog shrouded the combatants ; but at six in the evening a breeze sprang up and presently several broadsides were heard to windward. This was Shovel, who with wonderful diligence had weathered the French squadron and now placed them between two fires. Tourville began to retire ; in the pictorial language of the

; medals, the French cock fled to land before the lion and the marine unicorn. Fogs, calms, and shifting winds prolonged the pursuit, but eventually a third of his fleet escaped through the Race of Alderney and took refuge at St. Malo, as Browning brilliantly described it

Helter-skelter through the blue,
Like a crowd of frightened porpoises, a shoal of sharks pursue,
Come crowding ship on ship to St. Malo on the Rance,

First and foremost of the drove in his great ship Damfreville. Sir George Rooke offered £100 to any pilot who would carry fireships up the river, but no second Hervé Riel came forward. At this juncture Shovel had the bad luck to be taken seriously ill, and the honour of burning the seventeen ships at Cherbourg and La Hogue devolved upon Rooke, who gained a higher reputation in consequence. Russell was blamed by the foolish and ignorant Nottingham for not burning the ships at St. Malo, and withdrew in disgust from active service, leaving Shovel and Rooke as rival aspirants for the premier position. They were singularly equal in courage and ability and even in age, for Rooke was one year later than Shovel and died only two years after him. But while one was a sturdy Whig, the other was a Jacobite and the hero of the High Church party; and while Shovel was a rough bluff seaman, a seventeenth century Hawkins, Rooke was a man of great parts, and had more of a courtier's turn of mind. However, they did not allow political animosity to damage their friendly relations at sea, as the following events proved. Shovel with two others had arranged for the despatch of Rooke in command of the Smyrna fleet, bound for Venice, Scanderton, &c. Many of the merchantmen had waited eighteen and twenty months for a convoy, and they had grown to an unwieldy agglomeration of 400 vessels. Off Cape St. Vincent, the French descended on them like a hawk on a tribe of ducklings, and having four times the strength of Rooke's escort, produced dire havoc. A Dutch cartoon represents the Smyrna fleet being taken in the distance and Sir Cloudesley on board his own ship with his hands tied behind him, one end of the cord being held by each of his colleagues, Killigrew and Delaral. Loud was the outcry, but he defended not only himself but his rival so forcibly at the bar of the House of Commons, that the most clamorous tongues were silenced.

After La Hogue the French confined their energies to these attacks on merchantmen ; with the true spirit of "a nation of shopkeepers” they preferred this less glorious but more lucrative mode of warfare. To do them justice it was very difficult to bring together their two fleets from Brest and Toulon and deliver a great blow. The English on their side were in great need of a Malta in the Mediterranean, where they could refit and clean their ships; after an

; engagement they had to wander about the seas disabled and leaking, and a mere cruise of a few inonths made them so "foul” that they were easily outsailed by the privateers. Scarcity of provisions was another hindrance, until on the east coast of Spain they discovered the little bay of Altea, where the inhabitants were friendly and sold them food. In the Channel the point d'appui of French piracy was Dunkirk, the home of the notorious Jean Bart, often pursued by Benbow and never overtaken, who seized English vessels in Plymouth Sound, attacked men-of-war with an overpowering force and did the East India Company alone a million pounds worth of damage. In 1695, Shovel was sent to bombard this nest of pirates, with the help of a certain Mr. Mcesters and his infernal machines, the forerunners of our torpedoes, vessels loaded with explosives such as had been used against St. Malo with the only result that they exploded harmlessly against a rock. But Dunkirk was tco well protected by nature and art, by shoals and piles; still, though the expedition was unsuccessful, it is remarkable that not the smallest blame attached to Shovel, for he went himself in a boat within the enemy's works and became an eye-witness of the impossibility of carrying out his orders. “There never,” said his supporters, “was heard of such an infidel as one who didn't believe that Shovel had both courage and sincerity.”

Bombardments of Calais and Dieppe were more successful; into the former of these unhappy towns he threw more than 300 bombs and “carcases" or firebrands, and the old wooden houses of Dieppe were set on fire and destroyed. "These English are very devils with their fire,” wrote one distressed inhabitant. When the war ended in 1697 the English had lost fisty men-of-war and the French nine more, but double the number of guns : in the ensuing war the results were even better, the English losing thirty-eight to the French fifty-two. And now after some remonstrance Shovel took Russell's place at the Admiralty. “To put me into the Admiralty,” he says, “is to set me up where I am pretty sure to be tumbled down, for if my Lord Oxford cannot stand, whose services have been so eminent, what can poor I expect?” The next war opened

I well with the destruction of the Plate feet and its convoy in Vigo Bay by Sir George Rooke. The information which led to this attack, be it remarked, was gathered on shore by the acute chaplain of the Pembroke. Shovel brought home the bulk of the fleet and all the prizes with wonderful success considering that he had to encounter the storms of November. Next year he was sent for the first time in command of a fleet to the Mediterranean. Besides his own thirty-five ships, there were fifty protecting trade in the West Indies and forty-five more pursuing privateers in the Channel, 130 in all, manned by 40,000 seamen.

His orders were to protect trade by convoying the Smyrna fleet, 230 strong, and to land ammunition for the Protestant Cevennois. The expedition started late, the Dutch as usual being extremely dilatory in putting to sea; other men besides Marlborough suffered from these torpid allies. The admiral was furthered hampered by a lack of cruisers and scouts, while the Comte d'Estrées employed an army of “adviceboats," which kept him informed as to every movement of the English fleet, when they set sail from Spithead, when they put in at Torbay, how strong they were, even how Benbow steered his course from time to time towards the West Indies. The Smyrna fleet reached in safety the desired havens, Malaga, Galipoli, &c., but on the French coast instead of Cevennois they found garrisons on the qui vive and firing signals. Further operations were stopped by the Dutch admirals pleading that they had orders to be home by November 20, and d'Estrées' advice-boats had soon the pleasure of seeing Shovel jogging back through the Straits. The English sailor of this period must have possessed a very inferior physique ; we are not surprised to hear of West Indian squadrons becoming depleted, but on this cruise out of some 11,000 sailors no fewer than 1,500 died, and many more were sick and weak. To increase their misery, they had scarcely anchored in the Downs when a tornado drove the ships hither and thither. Sir Cloudesley managed to weather it by the sacrifice of his mainmast, but the unlucky

a

Association was carried away as far as Gothenburg. A more glorious year followed. Sir George Rooke from his station in the Mediterranean requested with striking generosity that Sir Cloudesley, the idol of the opposite party-and the virulence of party feeling in those days must be remembered-might be sent out with reinforcements. The joint fleet then laid siege to Gibraltar and easily captured it, the more easily because, the day being a Sunday, all the women were at their devotions in a little chapel about four miles distant from the town, and when a landing party cut them off from their husbands, the Governor was bound to capitulate. And now follows a battle which, like La Hogue, was to convince the French that privateering was the better policy.

Off Malaga, Rooke and Shovel came upon the Comte de Toulouse; he had fifty-eight men-of-war and twenty-four galleys to oppose to the fifty-three men-of-war and fifteen frigates of the confederates; his metal was heavier, and his fleet was richer in three-deckers. The French as usual received the attack to leeward, and tried to shoot away the spars of the advancing ships. Shovel led the war with such ardour that he left Rooke behind. The French, seeing this, inveigled him on by heading away to the south, the mancuvre so successful at Beachy Head ; but Rooke was no Torrington, and crowding on all sail, he attacked the centre. It was the maxim of our seamen to fight at as close quarters as possible, and Shovel reserved his broadsides till he got within pistol-shot: he made short work of the weak wing opposed to him, and gallantly returned to the assistance of his admiral, who was in difficulties with his ammunition. After firing 15,000 shot against Gibraltar many of the ships had been reduced to twenty-five rounds, which only served for two hours and a half ; no: a few were forced to drop out of the line, and the Dutch were driven to fill up cartridges during the action. This was a serious handicap in combating the strong French centre, and Shovel's arrival was a great relief. “I escaped the best of all,” he said afterwards, "though I never took greater pains in all my life to

I have been soundly beaten ; for I set all my sails, and rowing with three boats ahead, tried to get alongside with the admiral of the white, but he shunned fighting." Being at length surrounded by enemies, he in his turn was rescued by Rooke. The galleys gave the French a great advantage; the Sieur Chammestin, for instance, attempted three times to board the Monk, and three times she was beaten off, but after each repulse her wounded were taken off by a galley and her crew reinforced from it. Two years before six galleys from Ostend, taking advantage of a calm, had captured a Dutch

NO. 1995.

VOL. CCLXXXII.

х

« ÖncekiDevam »