Графични страници
PDF файл

part of our squadron in those seas being at Jamaica. He found here also accounts that the combined fleets had been seen from St. Lucia on the 28th, standing to the southward, and that Tobago and Trinidad were their objects. This Nelson doubted; but he was alone in his opinion, and yielded it with these foreboding words—“ If your intelligence proves false, you lose me the French fleet. Sir William Myers offered to embark here with two thousand troops :-they were taken on board, and the next morning he sailed for Tobago. Here accident confirmed the false intelligence which had, whether from intention or error, misled him. A merchant at Tobago, in the general alarm, not knowing whether this fleet was friend or foe, sent out a schooner to reconnoitre, and acquaint him by signal. The signal which he had chosen happened to be the very one which had been appointed by Colonel Shipley of the engineers, to signify that the enemy were at Trinidad; and as this was at the close of day, there was no opportunity of discovering the mistake. An American brig was met with about the same time; the master of which, with that propensity to deceive the English and assist the French in any manner, which has been but too common among his countrymen, affirmed, that he had been boarded off Granada a few days before by the French, who were standing towards the Bocas of Trinidad. This fresh intelligence removed all doubts. The ships were cleared for action before daylight, and "Nelson entered the Bay of Paria on the 7th, hoping and expecting to make the mouths of the Orinoco as famous in the annals of the British navy as those of the Nile.


Not an enemy was there; and it was discovered that accident and artifice had combined to lead him so far to leeward, that there could have been little hope of fetching to windward of Granada for any other fleet. Nelson, however, with skill and exertions never exceeded, and almost unexampled, bore for that island.

Advices met him on the way, that the combined fleets, having captured the Diamond Rock, were then at Martinique, on the fourth, and were expected to sail that night for the attack of Granada. On the 9th Nelson arrived off that island; and there learnt that they had passed to leeward of Antigua the preceding day, and taken a homeward bound convoy. Had it not been for false information, upon which Nelson had acted reluctantly, and in opposition to his own judgment, he would have been off Port Royal just as they were leaving it, and the battle would have been fought on the spot where Rodney defeated De Grasse. This he remembered in his vexation : but he had saved the colonies, and above two hundred ships laden for Europe, which would else have fallen into the enemy's hands; and he had the satisfaction of knowing that the mere terror of his name had effected this, and had put to flight the allied enemies, whose force nearly doubled that before which they fled. That they were flying back to Europe he believed, and for Europe he steered in pursuit on the 13th, having disembarked the troops at Antigua, and taking with him the Spartiate, seventy-four; the only addition to the squadron with which he was pursuing so superior a force. Five days afterwards the Amazon brought intelli

gence, that she had spoke a schooner who had seen them, on the evening of the 15th, steering to the N.; and, by computation, eighty-seven leagues off. Nelson's diary at this time denotes his great anxiety, and his perpetual and all observing vigilance. — “ June 21. Midnight, nearly calm, saw three planks, which I think came from the French fleet. Very miserable, which is very

foolish.” On the 17th of July he came in sight of Cape St. Vincent, and steered for Gibraltar. -“ June 18th,” his diary says, “ Cape Spartel in sight, but no French fleet, nor any information about them. How sorrowful this makes me ! but I cannot help myself.” The next day he anchored at Gibraltar; and on the 20th, says he, “ I went on shore for the first time since June 16, 1803; and from having my foot out of the Victory, two years, wanting ten days."

Here he communicated with his old friend Collingwood; who, having been detached with a squadron, when the disappearance of the combined fleets, and of Nelson in their pursuit was known in England, had taken his station off Cadiz. He thought that Ireland was the enemy's ultimate object,that they would now liberate the Ferrol squadron, which was blocked up by Sir Robert Calder,-call for the Rochefort ships, and then appear off Ushant with three or four and thirty sail; there to be joined by the Brest fleet. With this great force he supposed they would make for Ireland,—the real mark and bent of all their operations : and their flight to the West Indies, he thought, had been merely undertaken to take off Nelson's force, which was the great impediment to their undertaking.

Collingwood was gifted with great political penetration. As yet, however, all was conjecture concerning the enemy; and Nelson, having victualled and watered at Tetuan, stood for Ceuta on the 24th, still without information of their course. Next day intelligence arrived that the Curieux brig had seen them on the 19th, standing to the northward. He proceeded off Cape St. Vincent, rather cruising for intelligence than knowing whither to betake himself: and here a case occurred, that more than any other event in real history resembles those whimsical proofs of sagacity which Voltaire, in his Zadig, has borrowed from the Orientals. One of our frigates spoke an American, who, a little to the westward of the Azores, had fallen in with an armed vessel, appearing to be a dismasted privateer, deserted by her crew, which had been run on board by another ship, and had been set fire to; but the fire had gone out. A log-book, and a few seamen's jackets were found in the cabin ; and these were brought to Nelson. The log-book closed with these words ; “ Two large vessels in the W. N. W.:” and this led him to conclude that the vessel had been an English privateer, cruising off the Western Islands. But there was in this book a scrap of dirty paper, filled with figures. Nelson immediately, upon seeing it, observed, that the figures were written by a Frenchman; and, after studying this for a while, said “I can explain the whole. The jackets are of French manufacture, and


that the privateer was in possession of the enemy. She had been chased and taken by the two ships that were seen in the W. N. W. The prize-master, going on board in a

hurry, forgot to take with him his reckoning: there is none in the log-book; and the dirty paper contains her work for the number of days since the privateer last left Corvo; with an unaccounted-for run, which I take to have been the chase, in his endeavour to find out her situation by back reckonings. By some mismanagement, I conclude, she was run on board of by one of the enemy's ships, and dismasted. Not liking delay (for I am satisfied that those two ships were the advanced ones of the French squadron), and fancying we were close at their heels, they set fire to the vessel, and abandoned her in a hurry. If this explanation be correct, I infer from it, that they are gone more to the northward ; and more to the northward I will look for them.” This course accordingly he held, but still without success. Still persevering, and still disappointed, he returned near enough to Cadiz to ascertain that they were not there; traversed the Bay of Biscay, and then, as a last hope, stood over for the north-west coast of Ireland, against adverse winds, till, on the evening of the 12th of August, he learnt that they had not been heard of there. Frustrated thus in all his hopes, after a pursuit, to which, for its extent, rapidity, and perseverance, no parallel can be produced, he judged it best to reinforce the channel fleet with his squadron, lest the enemy, as Collingwood apprehended, should bear down upon Brest with their whole collected force. On the 15th he joined Admiral Cornwallis off Ushant. No news had yet been obtained of the enemy; and on the same evening he received orders to proceed, with the Victory and Superb, to Portsmouth.

« ПредишнаНапред »