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masts went overboard; fortunately, not until her head was pointed out of the harbour. Johnstone, thus luckily escaping the consequences of his neglect, now called his captains together to learn the condition of their ships, and then ordered them to cut their cables and pursue. All obeyed except Captain Sutton of the Isis, who represented that the spars and rigging of his ship could not bear sail at once. Johnstone then ordered him to come out anyhow, which he did, and his fore topmast shortly went overboard. The disability of this ship so weighed upon the Commodore that his pursuit was exceedingly sluggish; and the French kept drawing him away to leeward, the Annibal having got a bit of canvas on a jury foremast. Night, therefore, was falling as Johnstone came near them; the Isis and Monmouth were two or three miles astern; the sea was increasing; if he got much further to leeward, he could not get back; he had forgotten to appoint a rendezvous where the convoy might rejoin; a night action, he considered, was not to be thought of. Yet, if he let the enemy go, they might anticipate him at the Cape. In short, Johnstone underwent the "anguish" of an undecided man in a "cruel situation,"1 and of course decided to run no risks. He returned therefore to Porto Praya, put the captain of the Isis under arrest, and remained in port for a fortnight. Suffren hurried on to the Cape, got there first, landed his troops, and secured the colony against attack. Johnstone arrived in the neighbourhood some time later, and, finding himself anticipated, turned aside to Saldanha Bay, where he captured five Dutch East Indiamen. He then sent the Hero, Monmouth, and Isis on to India, to reinforce Hughes, and himself went back to England.
No accusation of misbehavior lies against any of the British subordinates in this affair of Porto Praya. The 1 Expressions in Johnstone's Report.
captain of the Isis was brought to a court-martial, and honourably acquitted of all the charges. The discredit of the surprise was not redeemed by any exhibition of intelligence, energy, or professional capacity, on the part of the officer in charge. It has been said that he never had commanded a post-ship1 before he was intrusted with this very important mission, and it is reasonably sure that his selection for it was due to attacks made by him upon the professional conduct of Keppel and Howe, when those admirals were at variance with the administration.2 His preposterous mismanagement, therefore, was probably not wholly bitter to the Navy at large. In the British ships of war, the entire loss in men, as reported, was only 9 killed, 47 wounded. Several casualties from chance shots occurred on board the convoy, bringing up the total to 36 killed and 130 wounded. The French admit 105 killed and 204 wounded, all but 19 being in the HSroa and Annibal. Although precipitated by Suffren, the affair clearly was as great a surprise to his squadron as to the British. Therefore, the latter, being already at anchor and more numerous as engaged, had a distinct advantage; to which also contributed musketry fire from the transports. Nevertheless, the result cannot be deemed creditable to the French captains or gunnery.
Suffren remained in the neighbourhood of the Cape for two months. Then, having seen the colony secure, independent of his squadron, he departed for the He de France, arriving there October 25th. On the 17th of December the whole French force, under the command of d'Orves, sailed for the
1 Charnock, however, says that in 1762, immediately after receiving his post-commission, he commanded in succession the Hind, 20, and the Wager, 20. Moreover, before his appointment to the expedition of 1781, he had been Commodore on the Lisbon Station. But he had spent comparatively little time at sea as a captain. — W. L. C. 2 See ante, pp. 79, 80.
Coromandel coast. On the way the British 50-gun ship Hannibal, Captain Alexander Christie, was taken. On the 9th of February, 1782, Comte d'Orves died, and Suffren found himself at the head of twelve ships of the line: three 74's, seven 64's and two 50's.1 On the 15th Hughes's fleet was sighted, under the guns of Madras. It numbered nine of the line: two 74's, one 68, five 64's, and one 50. Suffren stood south towards Pondicherry, which had passed into the power of Hyder Ali. After nightfall Hughes got under way, and also steered south. He feared for Trincomalee, in Ceylon, recently a Dutch port, which the British had captured on the 5th of January. It was a valuable naval position, as yet most imperfectly defended.
At daylight the British saw the French squadron twelve miles east (A, A) and its transports nine miles south-west (c). Hughes chased the latter and took six. Suffren pursued, but could not overtake before sunset, and both fleets steered south-east during the night. Next morning there were light north-north-east airs, and the French were six miles north-east of the British (B, B). The latter formed line on the port tack (a), heading to seaward; Hughes hoping that thus the usual sea-breeze would find him to windward. The breeze, however, did not make as expected; and, as the north-east puffs were bringing the enemy down, he kept off before the wind (b) to gain time for his ships to close their intervals, which were too great. At 4 P.m. the near approach of the French compelled him to form line again, (C), on the port tack, heading easterly. The rear ship, Exeter, 64 (e), was left separated, out of due support from those ahead. Suffren, leading one section of his fleet
1 One being the captured British Hannibal, 50, which was commissioned by Captain Morard de Galles, retaining the English form of the name, Hannibal, to distinguish her from the Annibal, 74, already in the squadron.