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disaster claims mention among the greater operations of war, the success of which it could not fail to influence. Captain John Moutray, the officer commanding the convoy, was brought to trial and dismissed his ship; but there were not wanting those who charged the misadventure to the Admiralty, and saw in the captain a victim. It was the greatest single blow that British commerce had received in war during the memory of men then living, and "a general inclination prevailed to lay the blame upon some individual, who might be punished according to the magnitude of the object, rather than in proportion to his demerit." 1
During the year 1780 was formed the League of the Baltic Powers, known historically as the Armed Neutrality, to exact from Great Britain the concession of certain points thought essential to neutral interests. The accession of Holland to this combination, together with other motives of dissatisfaction, caused Great Britain to declare war against the United Provinces on the 20th of December. Orders were at once sent to the East and West Indies to seize Dutch possessions and ships, but these did not issue in action until the following year.
Towards the end of 1780 the French Government, dissatisfied with the lack of results from the immense combined force assembled in Cadiz during the summer months, decided to recall its ships, and to refit them during the winter for the more extensive and aggressive movements planned for the campaign of 1781. D'Estaing was sent from France for the purpose; and under his command thirty-eight ships of the line, in which were included those brought by de Guichen from the West Indies, sailed on the 7th of November for Brest. Extraordinary as it may seem, this fleet did not reach its port until the 3d of January, 1781.
1 Beatson, "Military and Naval Memoirs."
NAVAL CAMPAIGN IN WEST INDIES IN 1781. CAPTURE OF ST. EUSTATIUS BY RODNEY. DE GRASSE ARRIVES IN PLACE OF DE GUICHEN. TOBAGO SURRENDERS TO DE GRASSE
RODNEY, returning to the West Indies from New York, reached Barbados on December 6th, 1780. There he seems first to have learned of the disastrous effects of the great October hurricanes of that year. Not only had several ships — among them two of the line — been wrecked, with the loss of almost all on board, but the greater part of those which survived had been dismasted, wholly or in part, as well as injured in the hull. There were in the West Indies no docking facilities; under-water damage could be repaired only by careening or heaving-down. Furthermore, as Barbados, Santa Lucia, and Jamaica, all had been swept, their supplies were mainly destroyed. Antigua, it is true, had escaped, the hurricane passing south of St. Kitts; but Rodney wrote home that no stores for refitting were obtainable in the Caribbee Islands. He was hoping then that Sir Peter Parker might supply his needs in part; for when writing from Santa Lucia on December 10th, two months after the storm, he was still ignorant that the Jamaica Station had suffered to the full as severely as the eastern islands. The fact shows not merely the ordinary slowness of communications in those days, but also the paralysis that fell upon all movements in consequence of that great disaster. "The most beautiful island in the world," he said of Barbados, "has the appearance of a country laid waste by fire and sword."
Hearing that the fortifications at St. Vincent had been almost destroyed by the hurricane, Rodney, in combination with General Vaughan, commanding the troops on the station, made an attempt to reconquer the island, landing there on December 15th; but the intelligence proved erroneous, and the fleet returned to Santa Lucia. "I have only nine sail of the line now with me capable of going to sea," wrote the Admiral on the 22d, "and not one of them has spare rigging or sails." In the course of January, 1781, he was joined by a division of eight ships of the line from England, under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, — Nelson's Lord Hood. These, with four others refitted during that month, not improbably from stores brought in Hood's convoy of over a hundred sail, raised the disposable force to twentyone ships of the line: two 90's, one 80, fifteen 74's, and three 64's.
On the 27th of January, an express arrived from England, directing the seizure of the Dutch possessions in the Caribbean, and specifying, as first to be attacked, St. Eustatius and St. Martin, two small islands lying within fifty miles north of the British St. Kitts. St. Eustatius, a rocky patch six miles in length by three in breadth, had been conspicuous, since the war began, as a great trade centre, where supplies of all kinds were gathered under the protection of its neutral flag, to be distributed afterwards in the belligerent islands and the North American continent. The British, owing to their extensive commerce and maritime aptitudes, derived from such an intermediary much less benefit than their enemies; and the island had been jealously regarded by Rodney for some time. He asserted that when de Guichen's fleet could not regain Fort Royal, because of its injuries received in the action of April 17th, it was refitted to meet him by mechanics and materials sent from St. Eustatius. On the other hand, when cordage was to be bought for the British vessels after the hurricanes of 1780, the merchants of the island, he said, alleged that there was none there; although, when he took the island soon afterwards, many hundred tons were found that had been long in stock.
Rodney and Vaughan moved promptly. Three days after their orders arrived, they sailed for St. Eustatius. There being in Fort Royal four French ships of the line, six British were left to check them, and on the 3d of February the fleet reached its destination. A peremptory summons from the commander of a dozen ships of the line secured immediate submission. Over a hundred and fifty merchant ships were taken; and a convoy of thirty sail, which had left the island two days before, was pursued and brought back. The merchandise found was valued at over £3,000,000. The neighbouring islands of St. Martin and Saba were seized also at this time.
Rodney's imagination, as is shown in his letters, was greatly impressed by the magnitude of the prize and by the defenceless condition of his capture. He alleged these as the motives for staying in person at St. Eustatius, to settle the complicated tangle of neutral and belligerent rights in the property involved, and to provide against the enemy's again possessing himself of a place now so equipped for transactions harmful to Great Britain. The storehouses and conveniences provided for the particular traffic, if not properly guarded, were like fortifications insufficiently garrisoned. If they passed into the hands of the enemy, they became sources of injury. The illicit trade could start again at once in full force, with means which elsewhere would have first to be created. There were a mile and a half of storehouses in the lower town, he said, and these he must leave at the least roofless, if not wholly demolished.
For such reasons he remained at St. Eustatius throughout February, March, and April. The amount of money involved, and the arbitrary methods pursued by him and by Vaughan, gave rise to much scandal, which was not diminished by the King's relinquishing all the booty to the captors, nor by the latters' professed disinterestedness. Men thought they did protest too much. Meanwhile, other matters arose to claim attention. A week after the capture, a vessel arrived from the Bay of Biscay announcing that eight or ten French sail of the line, with a large convoy, had been seen on the 31st of December steering for the West Indies. Rodney at once detached Sir Samuel Hood with eleven ships of the line, directing him to take also under his command the six left before Fort Royal, and to cruise with them to windward of Martinique, to intercept the force reported. Hood sailed February 12th. The particular intelligence proved afterwards to be false, but Hood was continued on his duty. A month later he was ordered to move from the windward to the leeward side of the island, and to blockade Fort Royal closely. Against this change he remonstrated, and the event showed him to be right; but Rodney insisted, saying that from his experience he knew that a fleet could remain off Fort Royal for months without dropping to leeward, and that there ships detached to Santa Lucia, for water and refreshments, could rejoin before an enemy's fleet, discovered to windward, could come up. Hood thought the Admiral's object was merely to shelter his own doings at St. Eustatius; and he considered the blockade of Fort Royal to be futile, if no descent upon the island were intended. "It would doubtless have been fortunate for the public," he remarked afterwards, "had Sir George been with his fleet, as I am confident he would have been to windward instead of to leeward, when de Grasse made his approach."