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ment joined him. Within forty-eight hours the supplyships were cleared, and the squadron sailed again with the object of taking Trincomalee. On the 25th he was off the port, and, the operation being pushed energetically, the place capitulated on the 31st of August.
It is difficult to resist the impression that greater energy on Hughes's part might have brought him up in time to prevent this mishap. He reached Madras only on July 20th, a fortnight after the late action; and he did not sail thence until the 20th of August, notwithstanding that he apprehended an attempt upon Trincomalee. Hence, when he arrived there on the 2d of September, not only had it passed into the hands of the enemy, but Suffren had reembarked already the men and the guns that had been landed from his fleet. When Hughes's approach was signalled, all preparations for sea were hastened, and the following morning, at daybreak, the French came out. Hughes had been joined since the last action by the Sceptre, 64, so that the respective forces in the action fought off Trincomalee on September 3d were twelve of the line to fourteen, viz.: British, three 74's, one 70, one 68, six 64's, one 50; French, four 74's, seven 64's, one 60, two 50's. Suffren had also put into the line a 36-gun ship, the Consolante.1
While the French were getting underway from Trincomalee, the British fleet was standing south-south-east towards the entrance, close-hauled on the starboard tack, a fresh southwest monsoon blowing. When Hughes made out the hostile flags on the works, he kept away four points,2 and steered east-south-east, still in column, under short canvas (A)Suffren pursued, being to windward yet astern, with his fleet on a line of bearing; that is, the line on which the ships were ranged was not the same as the course which
1 Previously the British East Indiaman, Elizabeth.
2 Forty-five degrees.
they were steering. This formation, (A), wherein the advance is oblique to the front, is very difficult to maintain. Wishing to make the action, whatever the immediate event, decisive in results, by drawing the French well to leeward of the port, Hughes, who was a thorough seaman and had good captains, played with his eager enemy. "He kept avoiding me without taking flight," wrote Suffren; "or rather, he fled in good order, regulating his canvas by his worst sailers; and, keeping off by degrees, he steered from first to last ten or twelve different courses." Hughes, on his part, while perfectly clear as to his own object, was somewhat perplexed by the seeming indecision of an adversary whose fighting purpose he knew by experience. "Sometimes they edged down," he wrote; "sometimes they brought-to; in no regular order, as if undetermined what to do." These apparent vacillations were due to the difficulty of maintaining the line of bearing, which was to be the line of battle; and this difficulty was the greater, because Hughes was continually altering his course and Suffren's ships were of unequal speed.
At length, at 2 P.m., being then twenty-five miles south-east of the port, the French drew near enough to bear down. That this movement might be carried out with precision, and all the vessels come into action together, Suffren caused his fleet to haul to the wind, on the starboard tack, to rectify the order. This also being done poorly and slowly, he lost patience, — as Nelson afterwards said, "A day is soon lost in manoeuvring," — and at 2.30, to spur on the laggard ships, the French admiral gave the signal to attack, (a), specifying pistol-range. Even this not sufficing to fetch the delinquents promptly into line with the flagship, the latter fired a gun to enforce obedience. Her own side being still turned towards the British, as she waited, the report was taken by the flagship's men below decks to be the signal for opening
fire, and her whole broadside was discharged. This example was followed by the other ships, so that the engagement, instead of being close, was begun at half cannon-shot.
Owing to his measured and deliberate retreat, Hughes had his fleet now in thoroughly good shape, well aligned and closed-up. The French, starting from a poor formation to perform a difficult evolution, under fire, engaged in utter disorder (B). Seven ships, prematurely rounding-to to bring their broadsides to the enemy, and fore-reaching, formed a confused group (v), much to windward and somewhat ahead of the British van. Imperfectly deployed, they interfered with one another and their fire consequently could not be adequately developed. In the rear a somewhat similar condition existed. Suffren, expecting the bulk of his line to fight the British to windward, had directed the Vengeur, 64, and the Consolante, 36, to double to leeward on the extreme rear; but they, finding that the weather sides of the enemy were not occupied, feared to go to leeward, lest they should be cut off. They attacked the rear British ship, the Worcester, 64 (w), to windward; but the Monmouth, 64 (m), dropping down to her support, and the Vengeur catching fire in the mizzen top, they were compelled to haul off. Only Suffren's own ship, the Heros, 74 (a), and her next astern, the Illustre, 74, (i), came at once to close action with the British centre; but subsequently the Ajax, 64, succeeding in clearing herself from the snarl in the rear, took station ahead (j) of the Heros. Upon these three fell the brunt of the fight. They not only received the broadsides of the ships immediately opposed to them, but, the wind having now become light yet free, the British vessels ahead and astern, (h,s,) by luffing or keeping off, played also upon them. "The enemy formed a semicircle around us," wrote Suffren's chief of staff, "and raked us ahead and astern, as the ship came up and fell off with the helm to leeward." The two seventy-fours were