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test, and affected, directly or indirectly, the major operations throughout the world, by the amount of force absorbed in attacking and preserving it. After the futile effort in the Channel, in 1779, Spain recalled her vessels from Brest. "The project of a descent upon England was abandoned provisionally. To blockade Gibraltar, to have in America and Asia force sufficient to hold the British in check, and to take the offensive in the West Indies, — such," wrote the French government to its ambassador in Madrid, "was the plan of campaign adopted for 1780." Immediately upon the declaration of war, intercourse between Gibraltar and the Spanish mainland was stopped. Soon afterwards a blockade by sea was instituted; fifteen cruisers being stationed at the entrance of the Bay, where they seized and sent into Spanish ports all vessels, neutral or British, bound to the Rock. This blockade was effectively supported from Cadiz, but a Spanish force of some ships of the line and many small vessels also maintained it more directly from Algeciras, on the Spanish side of the Bay of Gibraltar. The British Mediterranean squadron, then consisting only of one 60-gun ship, three frigates, and a sloop, was wholly unable to afford relief. At the close of the year 1779, flour in Gibraltar was fourteen guineas the barrel, and other provisions in proportion. It became therefore imminently necessary to throw in supplies of all kinds, as well as to reinforce the garrison. To this service Rodney was assigned; and with it he began the brilliant career, the chief scene of which was to be in the West Indies.
Rodney was appointed to command the Leeward Islands Station on the 1st of October, 1779. He was to be accompanied there immediately by only four or five ships of the line; but advantage was taken of his sailing, to place under the charge of an officer of his approved reputation a great force, composed of his small division and a large fraction of the Channel fleet, to convey supplies and reinforcements to Gibraltar and Minorca. On the 29th of December the whole body, after many delays in getting down Channel, put to sea from Plymouth: twenty-two ships of the line, fourteen frigates and smaller vessels, besides a huge collection of storeships, victuallers, ordnance vessels, troop-ships, and merchantmen, — the last named being the "trade" for the West Indies and Portugal.
On the 7th of January, 1780, a hundred leagues west of Cape Finisterre, the West India ships parted for their destination, under convoy of a ship of the line and three frigates. At daylight on the 8th, twenty-two sail were seen to the north-east, the squadron apparently having passed them in the night. Chase was at once given, and the whole were taken in a few hours. Seven were ships of war, one 64 and six frigates; the remainder merchant vessels, laden with naval stores and provisions for the Spanish fleet at Cadiz. The provision ships, twelve in number, were diverted at once to the relief of Gibraltar, under charge of the Spanish sixty-four, which had been one of their convoy before capture, and was now manned by a British crew. Continuing on, intelligence was received from time to time by passing vessels that a Spanish squadron was cruising off Cape St. Vincent. Thus forewarned, orders were given to all captains to be prepared for battle as the Cape was neared. On the 16th it was passed, and at 1 P.m. sails in the south-east were signalled. These were a Spanish squadron of eleven ships of the line, and two 26-gun frigates. Rodney at once bore down for them under a press of canvas, making signal for the line abreast.1 Seeing, however, that the enemy was trying to form line of battle ahead on the starboard tack,
1 In line "abreast," as the word indicates, the ships are not in each other's wake, as in line "ahead," but abreast; that is, ranged on a line perpendicular to the course steered.
which with a westerly wind was with heads to the southward, towards Cadiz, a hundred miles to the south-east, he changed the orders to a "General Chase," the ships to engage as they came up; "to leeward," so as to get between the enemy and his port, and "in rotation," by which probably was meant that the leading British vessel should attack the sternmost of the Spaniards, and that her followers should pass her to leeward, successively engaging from the enemy's rear towards the van.
At 4 P.m. the signal for battle was made, and a few minutes later the four headmost of the pursuers got into action. At 4.40 one of the Spanish ships, the Santo Domingo, 80, blew up with all on board, and at 6 another struck. By this hour, it being January, darkness had set in. A night action therefore followed, which lasted until 2 A.m., when the headmost of the enemy surrendered, and all firing ceased. Of the eleven hostile ships of the line, only four escaped. Besides the one blown up, six were taken. These were the Fenix, 80, flag of the Spanish Admiral, Don Juan de Langara, the Monarca, 70, the Princesa, 70, the Diligente, 70, the San Julian, 70, and the San Eugenio, 70. The two latter drove ashore and were lost.1 The remaining four were brought into Gibraltar, and were ultimately added to the Navy. All retained their old names, save the Fenix, which was renamed Gibraltar. "The weather during the night," by Rodney's report, "was at times very tempestuous, with a great sea. It continued very bad weather the next day, when the Royal George, 100, Prince George, 90, Sandwich, 90 (Rodney's flagship), and several other ships were in great danger, and under the necessity of making sail to avoid the shoals of San Lucar, nor did they get into deep water till the next morning."
1 Rodney's Report. Chevalier says that one of them was retaken by her crew and carried into Cadiz.
It was in this danger from a lee shore, which was deliberately though promptly incurred, that the distinction of this action of Rodney's consists. The enemy's squadron, being only eleven ships of the line, was but half the force of the British, and it was taken by surprise; which, to be sure, is no excuse for a body of war-ships in war-time. Caught unawares, the Spaniards took to flight too late. It was Rodney's merit, and no slight one under the conditions of weather and navigation, that they were not permitted to retrieve their mistake. His action left nothing to be desired in resolution or readiness. It is true that Rodney discussed the matter with his flag-captain, Walter Young, and that rumor attributed the merit of the decision to the latter; but this sort of detraction is of too common occurrence to affect opinion. Sir Gilbert Blane, Physician to the Fleet, gives the following account: "When it was close upon sunset, it became a question whether the chase should be continued. After some discussion between the Admiral and Captain, at which I was present, the Admiral being confined with the gout, it was decided to persist in the same course, with the signal to engage to leeward." Rodney at that time was nearly sixty-two, and a constant martyr to gout in both feet and hands.
The two successes by the way imparted a slightly triumphal character to the welcome of the Admiral by the garrison, then sorely in need of some good news. The arrival of muchneeded supplies from home was itself a matter of rejoicing; but it was more inspiriting still to see following in the train of the friendly fleet five hostile ships of the line, one of them bearing the flag of a Commander-in-Chief, and to hear that, besides these, three more had been sunk or destroyed. The exultation in England was even greater, and especially at the Admiralty, which was labouring under the just indignation of the people for the unpreparedness of the Navy. "You have taken more line-of-battle ships," wrote the First Lord to Rodney, "than had been captured in any one action in either of the two last preceding wars."
It should be remembered, too, as an element in the triumph, that this advantage over an exposed detachment had been snatched, as it were, in the teeth of a main fleet superior to Rodney's own; for twenty Spanish and four French ships of the line, under Admiral de Cordova, were lying then in Cadiz Bay. During the eighteen days when the British remained in and near the Straits, no attempt was made by Cordova to take revenge for the disaster, or to reap the benefit of superior force. The inaction was due, probably, to the poor condition of the Spanish ships in point of efficiency and equipment, and largely to their having uncoppered bottoms. This element of inferiority in the Spanish navy should be kept in mind as a factor in the general war, although Spanish fleets did not come much into battle. A French Commodore, then with the Spanish fleet in Ferrol, wrote as follows: "Their ships all sail so badly that they can neither overtake an enemy nor escape from one. The Glorieux is a bad sailer in the French navy, but better than the best among the Spaniards." He adds: "The vessels of Langara's squadron were surprised at immense distances one from the other. Thus they always sail, and their negligence and security on this point are incredible."
On approaching Gibraltar, the continuance of bad weather, and the strong easterly current of the Straits, set many of Rodney's ships and convoy to leeward, to the back of the Rock, and it was not till the 26th that the flagship herself anchored. The storeships for Minorca were sent on at once, under charge of three coppered ships of the line. The practice of coppering, though then fully adopted, had not yet been extended to all vessels. As an element of speed, it was an important factor on an occasion like this, when time pressed to get to the West Indies; as it also was in an engage