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that day the British squadron blockaded closely, and on the 17th of October Pondicherry capitulated.
On the 7th of March, 1779, Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes sailed for the East Indies with a small squadron. The French also sent out occasional ships; but in 1779 and 1780 these went no further than the He de France, their naval station in the Indian Ocean. Hughes's force remained unopposed during those years. The period was critical, for the British were at war with Hyder Ali, Sultan of Mysore, and with the Mahrattas; and all depended upon command of the sea. In January, 1781, when Hughes was wintering at Bombay, the French squadron under Comte d'Orves appeared off the Coromandel coast, but, despite Hyder Ali's entreaties, it refused to cooperate with him. The different spirit of the two commanders may be illustrated from contemporary documents.
"We have advices from Fort St. George of a French squadron which appeared off that place on January 25, 26, and 27, consisting of 1 seventy-four, 4 sixty-fours, and 2 fifties. They proceeded south without making any attempt on five Indiamen then in the roads, with a number of vessels laden with grain and provisions; the destroying of which might have been easily accomplished, and would have been severely felt."
"On December 8th, off Mangalore," 1 writes Hughes, "I saw two ships, a large snow, three ketches, and many smaller vessels at anchor in the road with Hyder's flag flying; and, standing close, found them vessels of force and all armed for war. I anchored as close as possible, sent in all armed boats, under cover of three smaller ships of war, which anchored in four fathoms water, close to the enemy's ships. In two hours took and burned the two ships, one of 28 and one of 26 guns, and took or destroyed all the others, save one which, by throwing everything overboard, escaped over the bar into the port. Lost 1 lieutenant and 10 men killed, 2 lieutenants and 51 wounded."
It is interesting to note these evidences of Hughes's con
1 On the Malabar — western — coast.
ceptions of naval warfare and enterprise, common though they were to the British service; for their positive character brings into strong relief the qualities of his next antagonist, Suffren, and his great superiority in these respects over the average run of French officers of that day.
D'Orves returned to the He de France.
When war with Holland began, the British government decided to attempt the capture of the Cape of Good Hope. For that object a squadron of one 74, one 64, and three 50's, with numerous smaller vessels, under Commodore George Johnstone, convoying a considerable body of troops, sailed from England on the 13th of March, 1781, in company with the Channel fleet under Vice-Admiral George Darby, then on its way to relieve Gibraltar. The French government, having timely notice of the expedition, undertook to frustrate it; detailing for that purpose a division of two 74's, and three 64's, under the since celebrated Suffren.1 These ships left Brest on the 22d of March, with the fleet of de Grasse. They also carried some battalions of troops.
On April 11th the British squadron reached Porto Praya, Cape de Verde Islands. This bay is open to the southward, extending from east to west about a mile and a half, and is within the limits of the north-east trade-winds. Although aware that a French division was on his track, and conscious, by the admissions of his report, that protection could not be expected from the neutrality of the place, Johnstone permitted his vessels to anchor without reference to attack. His own flagship, the Romney, 50, was so surrounded by others that she could fire only with great caution through intervals. On the 16th of April, at 9.30 A.m., the Isis, 50, which was the outermost of the British squadron, signalled eleven sail in the north-east. Fifteen hundred persons were then ashore engaged in watering, fishing, embarking cattle,
1 See ante, p. 163.
and amusing themselves. The strangers were Suffren's division. The meeting was not expected by the French commander, whose object in entering was simply to complete the water of the ships; but he determined at once to attack, and hauled round the east point of the bay in column, the two seventy-fours at the head, his own ship, the Heros, leading with the signal for battle (line ab). Passing through, or along, the disordered enemy until he reached the only seventy-four among them, he there luffed to the wind, anchoring five hundred feet from the starboard beam of this vessel (f) which by an odd coincidence bore the same name — Hero. From this position he at once opened fire from both broadsides. His next astern, the Annibal (b), brought up immediately ahead of him, but so close that the Hiros had to veer cable and drop astern (a), which brought her on the beam of the Monmouth, 641 (m). The captain of the Annibal had thought the order for battle merely precautionary, and had not cleared for action. He was therefore taken unawares, and his ship did no service proportionate to her force. The third French vessel (c) reached her station, but her captain was struck dead just when about to anchor, and in the confusion the anchor was not let go. The ship drifted foul of a British East Indiaman, which she carried out to sea (c' c"). The two remaining French (d, e) simply cannonaded as they passed across the bay's mouth, failing through mishap or awkwardness to reach an effective position.
The attack thus became a mere rough and tumble, in which the two seventy-fours alone sustained the French side. After three quarters of an hour, Suffren, seeing that the attempt had failed, slipped his cable and put to sea. The Annibal followed, but she had been so damaged that all her
11 infer, from the accounts, that the Monmouth was well east of the Hero, that the French had passed her first, and that the Hiros was now on her port beam; but this point is not certain.