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had done on the 12th of April. As commonly happened, the rear got less close than the van (Position I). The fourth ship in the French order, the Brillant, 64 (a), losing her mainmast early, dropped to leeward of the line, (a'), and astern of her place (a")- At half-past noon the wind flew suddenly to south-south-east, — the sea-breeze, — taking the ships a little on the port bow. Most of them, on both sides, paid off from the enemy, the British to starboard, the French to port; but between the main lines, which were in the momentary confusion consequent upon such an incident, were left six ships — four British and two French — that had turned the other way (Positions II and III).1 These were the Burford, Sultan (s), Worcester, and Eagle, fourth, fifth, eighth and tenth, in the British order; and the S&c&re (b), third in the French, with the dismasted Brillant, which was now towards the rear of the fight (a). Under these conditions, the Severe, 64, underwent a short but close action with the Sultan, 74; and with two other British ships, according to the report of the Severe's captain. The remainder of the incident shall be given in the latter's own words.
"Seeing the French squadron drawing off,—for all the ships except the Brillant had fallen off on the other tack, — Captain de Cijlart thought it useless to prolong his defence, and had the flag hauled down. The ships engaged with him immediately ceased their fire, and the one on the starboard side moved away. At this moment the Sfoere fell off to starboard, and her sails filled. Captain de Cillart then ordered the fire to be resumed by his lower-deck guns, the only ones which remained manned, and he rejoined his squadron."
When the Shire's flag came down, Suffren was approaching
1 In the plan, Positions II and III, the second position is indicated by ships with broken outlines. These show the two lines of battle in the engagement until the wind shifted to south-south-east. The results of the shift constituted a third position, consecutive with the second, and is indicated by ships in full outline.
with his flagship. The Sultan wore to rejoin her fleet, and was raked by the Severe in so doing. The Brillant, whose mainmast had been shot away in conflict with either the Sultan or the Burford, both much heavier ships, had at this later phase of the fight fallen under the guns of the Worcester and the Eagle. Her captain, de Saint-Felix, was one of the most resolute of Suffren's officers. She was rescued by the flagship, but she had lost 47 killed and 136 wounded, — an almost incredible slaughter, being over a third of the usual complement of a sixty-four; and Suffren's ships were undermanned.
These spirited episodes, and the fact that his four separated ships were approaching the enemy, and being approached by them, caused Hughes to give the orders to wear, and for a general chase; the flag for the line being hauled down. These signals would bring all the main body to the support of the separated ships, without regard to their order in battle, and therefore with the utmost expedition that their remaining sail power would admit. Two of the fleet, however, made signals of disability; so Hughes annulled the orders, and at 1.30 formed on the port tack, recalling the engaged vessels. Both squadrons now stood in shore, and anchored at about 6 P.m.; the British near Negapatam, the French some ten miles north. The loss in the action had been: British, 77 killed, 233 wounded; French, 178 killed, 601 wounded.
On the following day Suffren sailed for Cuddalore. There he received word that two ships of the line — the Illustre, 74, and St. Michel, 60, with a convoy of supplies and 600 troops — were to be expected shortly at Pointe de Galle, then a Dutch port, on the south-west side of Ceylon. It was essential to cover these, and on the 18th he was ready for sea; but the necessity of an interview with Hyder Ali delayed him until the 1st of August, when he started for Batacalo. On the 9th he arrived there, and on the 21st the reinforcement 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