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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 Heros 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.
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.