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despot. Mathews, in despair over a recalcitrant second, cast off the yoke, engaged with part of his force, was ill supported and censured; Lestock escaping. Byng, considering this, and being a pedant by nature, would not break his line; the enemy slipped away, Minorca surrendered, and he was shot. In Keppel's court-martial, twenty-eight out of the thirty captains who had been in the line were summoned as witnesses. Most of them swore that if Keppel had chased in line of battle that day, there could have been no action, and the majority of them cordially approved his course; but there was evidently an undercurrent still of dissent, and especially in the rear ships, where there had been some of the straggling inevitable in such movements. Their commanders therefore had uncomfortable experience of the lack of mutual support, which the line of battle was meant to insure.
Another indication of still surviving pedantry was the obligation felt in the rear ships to take post about their own admiral, and to remain there when the signals for the line of battle, and to bear down in the admiral's wake, were flying. Thus Palliser's own inaction, to whatever cause due, paralysed the six or eight sail with him; but it appears to the writer that Keppel was seriously remiss in not summoning those ships by their own pennants, as soon as he began to distrust the purposes of the Vice-Admiral, instead of delaying doing so till 7 P.m., as he did. It is a curious picture presented to us by the evidence. The Commander-in-Chief, with his staff and the captain of the ship, fretting and fuming on the
ship next ahead. This made the leading vessel the pivot of the order and of manoeuvring, unless specially otherwise directed; which in an emergency could not always be easily done. Strictly, if circumstances favoured, the line on which the ships thus formed wasone of the two close-hauled lines; "close-hauled" meaning to bring the vessel's head as "near" the direction of the wind as possible, usually to about 70 degrees. The advantage of the close-hauled line was that the vessels were more manageable than when "off" the wind.
Victory's quarter-deck; the signals flying which have been mentioned; Harland's division getting into line ahead; and four points on the weather quarter, only two miles distant, so that "every gun and port could be counted," a group of seven or eight sail, among them the flag of the third in command, apparently indifferent spectators. The Formidable's only sign of disability was the foretopsail unbent for four hours, — a delay which, being unexplained, rather increased than relieved suspicion, rife then throughout the Navy. Palliser was a Tory, and had left the Board of Admiralty to take his command. Keppel was so strong a Whig that he would not serve against the Americans; and he evidently feared that he was to be betrayed to his ruin.
Palliser's defence rested upon three principal points: (1), that the signal for the line of battle was not seen on board the Formidable; (2), that the signal to get into the Admiral's wake was repeated by himself; (3), that his foremast was wounded, and, moreover, found to be in such bad condition that he feared to carry sail on it. As regards the first, the signal was seen on board the Ocean, next astern of and "not far from"1 the Formidable; for the second, the Admiral should have been informed of a disability by which a single ship was neutralizing a division. The frigate that brought Keppel's message could have carried back this. Thirdly, the most damaging feature to Palliser's case was that he asserted that, after coming out from under fire, he wore at once towards the enemy; afterwards he wore back again. A ship that thus wore twice before three o'clock, might have displayed zeal and efficiency enough to run two miles, off the wind,2 at five, to support a fight. Deliberate treachery is impossible.
1 Evidence of Captain John Laforey, of the Ocean.
* "I do not recollect how many points I went from the wind; I must have bore down a pretty large course." Testimony of Captain J. Laforey, of the Ocean, on this point.
To this writer the Vice-Admiral's behaviour seems that of a man in a sulk, who will do only that which he can find no excuses for neglecting. In such cases of sailing close, men generally slip over the line into grievous wrong.
Keppel was cleared of all the charges preferred against him; the accuser had not thought best to embody among them the delay to recall the ships which his own example was detaining. Against Palliser no specific charge was preferred, but the Admiralty directed a general inquiry into his course on the 27th of July. The court found his conduct "in many instances highly exemplary and meritorious," — he had fought well, — "but reprehensible in not having acquainted the Commander-in-Chief of his distress, which he might have done either by the Fox, or other means which he had in his power." Public opinion running strongly for Keppel, his acquittal was celebrated with bonfires and illuminations in London; the mob got drunk, smashed the windows of Palliser's friends, wrecked Palliser's own house, and came near to killing Palliser himself. The Admiralty, in 1780, made him Governor of Greenwich Hospital.
On the 28th of July, the British and French being no longer in sight of each other, Keppel, considering his fleet too injured aloft to cruise near the French coast, kept away for Plymouth, where he arrived on the 31st. Before putting to sea again, he provided against a recurrence of the misdemeanor of the 27th by a general order, that "in future the Line is always to be taken from the Centre." Had this been in force before, Palliser's captains would have taken station by the Commander-in-Chief, and the Formidable would have been left to windward by herself. At the same time Howe was closing his squadron upon the centre in America; and Rodney, two years later, experienced the ill-effects of distance taken from the next ahead, when the leading ship of a fleet disregarded an order.
Although privately censuring Palliser's conduct, the Commander-in-Chief made no official complaint, and it was not until the matter got into the papers, through the talk of the fleet, that the difficulty began which resulted in the trial of both officers, early in the following year. After this, Keppel, being dissatisfied with the Admiralty's treatment, intimated his wish to give up the command. The order to strike his flag was dated March 18th, 1779. He was not employed afloat again, but upon the change of administration in 1782 he became First Lord of the Admiralty, and so remained, with a brief intermission, until December, 1783.
It is perhaps necessary to mention that both British and French asserted, and assert to this day, that the other party abandoned the field.1 The point is too trivial, in the author's opinion, to warrant further discussion of an episode the historical interest of which is very slight, though its professional lessons are valuable. The British case had the advantage — through the courts-martial — of the sworn testimony of twenty to thirty captains, who agreed that the British kept on the same tack under short sail throughout the night, and that in the morning only three French ships were visible. As far as known to the author, the French contention rests only on the usual reports.
1 "During the night (of the 27th) Admiral Keppel kept away (fit route) for Portsmouth." Chevalier, "Marine Francaise," p. 90. Paris, 1877. Oddly enough, he adds that "on the evening of the 28th the French squadron, carried eastward by the currents, sighted Ushant."
OPERATIONS IN THE WEST INDIES, 1778-1779. THE BRITISH INVASION OF GEORGIA AND SOUTH CAROLINA
have just been narrated. In European seas it was realised that naval enterprises by fleets, requiring evolutions by masses of large vessels, were possible only in summer. Winter gales scattered ships, impeded manoeuvres, and made gun-fire ineffective. The same consideration prevailed to limit activity in North American waters to the summer; and complementary to this was the fact that in the West Indies hurricanes of excessive violence occurred from July to October. The practice therefore was to transfer effort from one quarter to the other in the Western Hemisphere, according to the
In the recent treaty with the United States, the King of France had formally renounced all claim to acquire for himself any part of the American continent then in possession of Great Britain. On the other hand, he had reserved the express right to conquer any of her islands south of Bermuda. The West Indies were then the richest commercial region on the globe in the value of their products; and France wished not only to increase her already large possessions there, but also to establish more solidly her political and military tenure.
ONDITIONS of season exerted great influence upon the time and place of hostilities during I the maritime war of 1778; the opening scenes of which, in Europe and in North America,