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April, M. Ganteautne found an accession to his force in two fine frigates, the Penelope and Themis, which had arrived since the 28th of the preceding month. These frigates had escaped from the road of Bordeaux on the 21st of January, cruised off Madeira and the African coast until the middle of March, passed the Straits on the 17th, anchored at Ajaccio on the 23d, and sailed thence on the 26th for Toulon; having captured or destroyed British vessels to the alleged value of six millions of francs, including four or five straggling West-Indiamen from a homeward-bound convoy under the protection of the British frigate Franchise.
What the British admiral was about, to suffer a French fleet to traverse the Mediterranean in all directions, and to possess a whole month's command of the Adriatic, has been a question often asked. Our researches have enabled us to collect a few facts, that may throw some, although a very faint, light upon the subject. When the French fleet, on its way to Corfu, was rounding Cape Passaro, Lord Collingwood, with the following five sail of the line, was at anchor in the port of Syracuse:
On the 24th of February, the day after M. Ganteaume had arrived at Corfu, the British admiral, with the Ocean, Canopus, Malta, and Montagu, sailed from Syracuse, bound to Palermo. On that very evening a line-of-battle ship was seen standing into Syracuse from the eastward. This was the Standard, from off Corfu, with the important intelligence that the French fleet was in that neighbourhood. Unfortunately the Standard could not see Lord Collingwood's squadron under the land ; and, still more unfortunately, his lordship could not be persuaded, that there was the least necessity for communicating with Captain Harvey. The Standard entered Syracuse in the dark, and was unable, owing to the state of the wind, to sail out again for two or three days. Immediately on the 64's arrival, Captain Legge, who, as we have seen, had been left in the port, sent an express to Cape Passaro, but the admiral had passed to the westward.
On the 2d of March, when about 11 leagues to the northwestward of the island of Maritimo, Lord Collingwood was joined by Vice-admiral Thornborough and Rear-admiral Sir Richard Strachan. This reinforcement augmented his lordship's force to 15 sail of the line and two or three frigates. On the next day the British fleet steered towards Palermo, still without any knowledge that the French Toulon fleet was even at sea;
On the 6th, when off Cape St.-Vito, Lord Collingwood was joined by the Apollo, with the intelligence of M. Ganteaume's departure from Toulon a month back. The British fleet immediately stood across to the bay of Naples; where the Standard's intelligence at length reached Lord Collingwood: who thereupon stood back to the southward; but, instead of proceeding through the straits of Messina, his lordship sailed round the west end of Sicily.
On the 21st Lord Collingwood arrived off the harbour of Syracuse, and such of the ships as were in want of water went in and obtained it. On the next day, the 22d, the British fleet sailed towards the entrance of the Adriatic; and on the 23d, having detached Rear-admiral Martin with three sail of the line to Palermo, Lord Collingwood was a few miles to the northward of Cape Spartivento, with 12, expecting every moment to meet Vice-admiral Ganteaume on his way from Corfu and Taranto.* On the 28th, by which time the British fleet had got within a few miles of Cape Rezzuto, information was received, that the French fleet, eight or nine days before, had quitted the Adriatic for the Mediterranean. The British ships immediately turned their heads to the westward, and on the 10th of April were abreast of the southern extremity of Sardinia. Between this island and Sicily Lord Collingwood cruised until the 28th; when the 32-gun frigate Proserpine, Captain Charles Otter, joined with intelligence that M. Ganteaume was at anchor with his fleet in the road of Toulon. The British fleet then steered for that port, and on the 3d of May arrived oft' Cape Sicie.
It was certainly a very extraordinary circumstance that these fleets should have so missed each other. On the 16th of March, when M. Ganteaume sailed from Corfu, Lord Collingwood was about a degree to the northward of the island of Pantalaria. From these points the two fleets continued to approach each other, until the British fleet, directing its course for Syracuse, entered the bight formed by the capes Passaro and Spartivento, while the French fleet stood over to the coast of Tripoli, and, passing wide of the island of Malta, made Cape Bon. The time subsequently spent by M. Ganteaume, in cruising off Sicily and the eastern coast of Sardinia, might yet have been taken advantage of, had the British admiral steered straight for Toulon; but, six days after M. Ganteaume had anchored in that road, we find Lord Collingwood putting back from the longitude of Minorca, to seek him on the coast of Sicily: nor was it until 17 days afterwards that the British fleet arrived off Cape Sicie.
Leaving Vice-admiral Thornborough with a sufficient force to
* As appears by a general order respecting the mode of attack to be adopted, which Lord Collingwood issued on that day; and, for a copy of which, see Appendix, No. 5.
blockade Toulon, Lord Collingwood sailed for Gibraltar and Cadiz, to contribute his aid to the cause of the Spanish patriots. It does not appear that M. Ganteaume, during the remainder of the year, did more than make a few demonstrations of sailing out, and yet the French naval force in the Mediterranean was rapidly augmenting. A three-decker, the Austerlitz, and an 80, the Donawerth, were launched at Toulon in the summer; as in the course of the autumn, was the Breslaw 74 at Genoa, and one or two other 74s, either in that port or in Spezzia.
The British squadron stationed at Palermo consisted, in the latter part of the year 1807, of the 98-gun ship WindsorCastle, Captain Charles Boyles, and the 74-gun ships Eagle, Captain Charles Rowley, and Thunderer, Captain John Talbot, together with a few frigates and smaller vessels. The success of General Regnier in Lower Calabria obliged the British and Neapolitan troops, composing the garrison of Reggio, to abandon that fortress and retire upon Scylla. On the 30th of January, 1808, the 16-gun brig-sloop Delight, Captain Philip Cosby Handfield, one of the above squadron, while engaged in endeavouring to recapture four Sicilian gun-boats which General Regnier had a few days before taken, grounded under the batteries of Reggio. Captain Handfield, a very promising young officer, whose name has before appeared in these pages, was killed; and Captain Thomas Secombe, of the Glatton, who was serving on board the brig, was mortally wounded and taken prisoner. The Delight was, however, of no use to the enemy, having been burnt by the survivors of her crew.
On the 17th of February the little fortress of Scylla, the only remaining post possessed by the British in Lower Calabria, was evacuated by the commandant, Lieutenant-colonel Robertson; and the garrison, of whom not more than 200 were British troops, was safely withdrawn from the power of General Regnier by the able management of Captain Robert Waller Otway, of the 74-gun ship Montagu, and Captain George Trollope, of the 16-gun brig-sloop Electra, with the assistance of a few transports and men-of-war launches.
The degrading situation, to which, at the commencement of the present year, Spain had been reduced by the arts of Napoleon, is an historical fact too notorious to require repetition. At length the Spanish character recovered its tone; and, by her struggles to free herself from the yoke of her powerful neighbour, Spain found a friend in every independent breast throughout the civilized world. It was to England in particular that Spain looked for support, and that support England gave, in the most cordial, prompt, and efficacious manner.
On the 4th of June the supreme junta of government at Seville, acting in the name of their imprisoned king, the miserable Ferdinand, issued a declaration of war against France. The French admiral in the port of Cadiz, as soon as the news of this event reached him, removed his vessels, which, it will be recollected, were the Neptune of 80, Algesiras, Argonaute, Heros, and Pluton, of 74 guns, Cornelie frigate, and a brigcorvette, out of the range of the batteries at the town, and took up a defensive position in the channel leading to the Caraccas. At this time Rear-admiral Purvis, with a British fleet of 10 or 11 sail of the line, cruised off the harbour, and, from several previous communications with the Spanish authorities on shore, had been anticipating the glorious epoch that was now arrived. The British admiral of course offered to assist in bringing the French admiral to terms; but the Spaniards, feeling themselves quite adequate to the task, preferred acting alone.
On the 9th of June, at 3 P. M., a division of Spanish gun and mortar boats, and the batteries erected for the purpose on the isle of Leon and at Fort Louis, commenced hostilities against the French ships, and a mutual firing, without intermission, was kept up until night. On the following morning, the 10th, the cannonade recommenced, and was continued partially till 2 p. M., when the French flag-ship, the Heros, hoisted a flag of truce. Shortly afterwards Vice-admiral Rosily (who had, on the preceding day, modestly enough, proposed "to quit the bay," provided, as was well added, "the British would permit him") addressed a letter to General Morla, offering to disembark his guns and ammunition, but to retain his men, and not to hoist any colours. These terms were considered inadmissible, and the Spaniards prepared to renew the attack upon the French squaddron with an increase of force. On the 14th, at 7 A. in., an additional battery of 30 long 24-pounders being ready to act, and numerous gun and mortar vessels having taken their stations, the French ships struck their colours; which, in the course of the forenoon, were replaced by those of Spain.
Soon after this event the Spanish commissioners, of whom General Morla was one, embarked for England to treat with the British government. Their reception fully equalled their expectations; and on the 4th of July the British government issued an order, directing that all hostilities between England and Spain should immediately cease. Those cruisers, hitherto so much dreaded along the coast of the latter, were hailed as deliverers; and never, surely, were the skill and enterprise of British seamen more zealously nor more successfully exerted, than in rooting out the French invaders from the sea-defences of a country, which they had entered but to enslave and despoil.
Portugal, as a fellow-sufferer with Spain, soon followed the latter's example in making an effort to free herself from French thraldom; and deputations from every part of the country, soliciting succours, were sent to Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, who, with a British squadron, cruised off the Tagus, to watch the motions of the Russian squadron at anchor within it. The call of Portugal upon her ancient ally was not made in vain. In the early part of August a body of British troops, under Lieutenant-general Sir Arthur Wellesley, landed on the coast; on the 21st the celebrated battle of Vimeira was fought; on the 22d Lieutenant-general Sir Hew Dalrymple arrived, and took the command of the British forces; and on the 30th was concluded the famous ponvention of Cintra, so discreditable to the victorious party.
By the second and third articles it was stipulated, that the French troops should not be considered as prisoners of war, and that, on their arrival in France, whither they were to be conveyed at the expense of the British government, they should be at liberty to serve again. With respect to the Russian squadron, consisting, as already stated, of nine sail of the line and one frigate,* a convention, concluded between Sir Charles Cotton and Vice-admiral Seniavin, placed the ships, as a deposit, in the hands of his Britannic Majesty, to be held until six months after the conclusion of peace between Russia and England; and the Russian vice-admiral, his officers, seamen, and marines, without any condition or stipulation whatever, were to be conveyed to Russia at England's expense.
The close alliance, cemented between France and Russia by the treaty of Tilsit, naturally suspended all friendly relations between the latter and Great Britain. If Russia, in the course of the three months that succeeded that treaty, made no public avowal of her sentiments, it was because the fleets and troops of England were then in the Baltic or in the inlets to it. No sooner had Admiral Gambier and General Lord Cathcart quitted the Sound, and the season become so far advanced as to prevent the British navy from operating in the Baltic, than Alexander spoke aloud the language of defiance. The emperor's declaration, which issued at St.-Petersburg on the 31st of October, was received in London on the 3d of December, and replied to on the 18th by a counter-declaration, clearly, forcibly, and elegantly drawn up; a state-paper, indeed, that might serve all future cabinets for a models) On the same day reprisals were ordered against Russian ships, vessels, and goods; but the time of the year prevented the immediate undertaking of any active measures.
As the firm ally of England, Sweden necessarily became involved in war with her two neighbours, Denmark and Russia. The first, happily for Sweden, having only two line-of-battle ships, a 74 and a 64, and some armed Indiamen, brigs of war, and gun-boats, was without a navy to molest her; but the second possessed a fleet, already in ports of the Baltic, and of far greater strength than any that Gustavus could send to sea. For instance, the Russian Baltic fleet, according to the official
* See vol. iv., pp. 315, 318.
f See the New Annual Register for the year 1807, p. 298.