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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 Heros 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.
in person, passed to windward of the British line, from the rear, as far as Hughes's flagship, which was fifth from the van. There he stopped, and kept at half cannon-shot, to prevent the four ships in the British van from tacking to relieve their consorts. It was his intention that the second half of his fleet should attack the other side of the English rear. This plan of intended battle is shown by the figure D in the diagram. Actually, only two of the French rear did what Suffren expected, engaging to leeward of the extreme British rear; the others of the French rear remaining long out of action (C). The figure C shows the imperfect achievement of the design D. However, as the position of Suffren's flagship prevented the British van from tacking into action, the net result was, to use Hughes's own words, that "the enemy brought eight of their best ships to the attack of five of ours." It will be noted with interest that these were exactly the numbers engaged in the first act of the battle of the Nile. The Exeter (like the Guerrier at the Nile) received the fresh broadsides of the first five of the enemy, and then remained in close action on both sides, assailed by two, and at last by three, opponents, — two 50's, and one 64. When the third approached, the master of the ship asked Commodore Richard King, whose broad pennant flew at her masthead, "What is to be done?" "There is nothing to be done," replied King, "but to fight her till she sinks." Her loss, 10 killed and 45 wounded, was not creditable under the circumstances to the French gunnery, which had been poor also at Porto Praya. At 6 P.m. the wind shifted to south-east, throwing all on the other tack, and enabling the British van at last to come into action. Darkness now approaching, Suffren hauled off and anchored at Pondicherry. Hughes went on to Trincomalee to refit. The British loss had been 32 killed, among whom were Captain William Stevens of the flagship, and Captain Henry Reynolds, of the Exeter,