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cluster 1 still to be seen at the anchorage. Hoping to profit by their disorder, he signalled "a general chase in that quarter,2 as well as for Rear-Admiral Rowley to leave the convoy; and as not more than fourteen or fifteen of the enemy's ships appeared to be in line, the signal was made for the ships to engage, and form as they could get up."3 It is clear from this not only that the ships were not in order, but also that they were to form under fire. Three ships, the Sultan, 74, the Prince of Wales, 74, and the Boyne, 70, in the order named, — the second carrying Barrington's flag, —were well ahead of the fleet (b). The direction prescribed for the attack, that of the clustered ships in the French rear, carried the British down on a south-south-west, or south by west, course; and as the enemy's van and centre were drawing out to the north-north-west, the two lines at that time resembled the legs of a "V," the point of which was the anchorage off Georgetown. Barrington's three ships therefore neared the French order gradually, and had to receive its fire for some time before they could reply, unless, by hauling to the wind, they diverged from the set course. This, and their isolation, made their loss very heavy. When they reached the rear of the French, the latter's column was tolerably formed, and Barrington's ships wore (w) in succession,— just as Harland's had done in Keppel's action,—to
1 Admiral Keppel, in his evidence before the Palliser Court, gave an interesting description of a similar scene, although the present writer is persuaded that he was narrating things as they seemed, rather than as they were — as at Grenada. "The French were forming their line exactly in the manner M. Conflans did when attacked by Admiral Hawke." (Keppel had been in that action.) "It is a manner peculiar to themselves; and to those who do not understand it, it appears like confusion. They draw out ship by ship from a cluster."
2 That is, towards the ships at anchor, — the enemy's rear as matters then were.
• Byron's Report. The italics are the author's.
follow on the other tack. In doing this, the Sultan kept away under the stern of the enemy's rearmost ship, to rake her; to avoid which the latter bore up. The Sultan thus lost time and ground, and Barrington took the lead, standing along the French line, from rear to van, and to windward.
Meanwhile, the forming of the enemy had revealed to Byron for the first time, and to his dismay, that he had been deceived in thinking the French force inferior to his own. "However, the general chase was continued, and the signal made for close engagement." 1 The remainder of the ships stood down on the port tack, as the first three had done, and wore in the wake of the latter, whom they followed; but before reaching the point of wearing, three ships, "the Grafton, 74, the Cornwall, 74, and the Lion, 64 (c), happening to be to leeward,2 sustained the fire of the enemy's whole line, as it passed on the starboard tack." It seems clear that, having had the wind, during the night and now, and being in search of an enemy, it should not have "happened" that any ships should have been so far to leeward as to be unsupported. Captain Thomas White, R.N., writing as an advocate of Byron, says,3 "while the van was wearing . . . the sternmost ships were coming up under Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker. . . . Among these ships, the Cornwall and Lion, from being nearer the enemy than those about them (for the rear division had not then formed into line), drew upon themselves almost the whole of the enemy's fire." No words can show more clearly the disastrous, precipitate disorder in which this attack was conducted. The Grafton, White says, was similarly situated. In consequence, these three were so crippled, besides a heavy loss in men, that they dropped far to leeward and astern (c/ c"), when on the other tack. When the British ships in general had got round, and were
1 Byron's Report. * Ibid. Author's italics.
• "Naval Researches." London, 1830, p. 22.
in line ahead on the starboard tack,—the same as the French,
— ranging from rear to van of the enemy (Positions B, B, B), Byron signalled for the eight leading ships to close together, for mutual support, and to engage close. This, which should have been done — not with finikin precision, but with military adequacy — before engaging, was less easy now, in the din of battle and with crippled ships. A quick-eyed subordinate, however, did something to remedy the error of his chief. Rear-Admiral Rowley was still considerably astern, having to make up the distance between the convoy and the fleet. As he followed the latter, he saw Barrington's three ships unduly separated and doubtless visibly much mauled. Instead, therefore, of blindly following his leader, he cut straight across (aa) to the head of the column to support the van, — an act almost absolutely identical with that which won Nelson renown at Cape St. Vincent. In this he was followed by the Monmouth, 64, the brilliancy of whose bearing was so conspicuous to the two fleets that it is said the French officers after the battle toasted "the little black ship." She and the Suffolk, 74, Rowley's flagship, also suffered severely in this gallant feat.
It was imperative with Byron now to keep his van well up with the enemy, lest he should uncover the convoy, broad on the weather bow of the two fleets. "They seemed much inclined to cut off the convoy, and had it much in their power by means of their large frigates, independent of ships of the line." 1 On the other hand, the Cornwall, Grafton, and Lion, though they got their heads round, could not keep up with the fleet (c', c"), and were dropping also to leeward
— towards the enemy. At noon, or soon after, d'Estaing bore up with the body of his force to join some of his vessels that had fallen to leeward. Byron very properly — under his conditions of inferiority—kept his wind; and thesepara
1 Byron's Report.
tion of the two fleets, thus produced, caused firing to cease at 1 P.m.
The enemies were now ranged on parallel lines, some distance apart; still on the starboard tack, heading north-north west. Between the two, but far astern, the Cornwall, Grafton, Lion, and a fourth British ship, the Fame, were toiling along, greatly crippled. At 3 P.m., the French, now in good order, tacked together (t, t, t), which caused them to head towards these disabled vessels. Byron at once imitated the movement, and the eyes of all in the two fleets anxiously watched the result. Captain Cornwallis of the Lion, measuring the situation accurately, saw that, if he continued ahead, he would be in the midst of the French by the time he got abreast of them. Having only his foremast standing, he put his helm up, and stood broad off before the wind (c"), across the enemy's bows, for Jamaica. He was not pursued. The other three, unable to tack and afraid to wear, which would put them also in the enemy's power, stood on, passed to windward of the latter, receiving several broadsides, and so escaped to the northward. The Monmouth was equally maltreated; in fact, she had not been able to tack to the southward with the fleet. Continuing north (a'), she became now much separated. D'Estaing afterwards reestablished his order of battle on the port tack, forming upon the then leewardmost ship, on the line BC.
Byron's action off Grenada, viewed as an isolated event, was the most disastrous in results that the British Navy had fought since Beachy Head, in 1690. That the Cornwall, Grafton, and Lion were not captured was due simply to the strained and inept caution of the French admiral. This Byron virtually admitted. "To my great surprise no ship of the enemy was detached after the Lion. The Grafton and Cornwall might have been weathered by the French, if they had kept their wind, . . . but they persevered so strictly in de