the islands of Nevis and Montserrat, until Barba-
does and Antigua alone remained to Britain of the
Leeward group. After these conquests the French
government projected an expedition against Jamaica,
and a powerful reinforcement with large supplies was
despatched under command of De Guichen, to enable
the French and Spanish commanders to effect this
object. Admiral Kempenfeldt succeeded in capturing
twenty of these transports, but being in inferior force
was unable to engage the powerful squadron that
Early in 1782, Sir George Rodney returned to
the West Indies with a considerable fleet, and,
meeting with Sir Samuel Hood, sailed for Marti-
nique, whither he learned De Grasse had retired
after the fall of St. Christopher's. The French fleet,
at this time assembled in Fort Royal Bay, Marti-
nique, consisted of thirty-three sail of the line, and
two ships of 50 guns; and in this fleet were em-
barked 5,400 soldiers intended for the conquest of
Jamaica. The design of the Count de Grasse was
to proceed with all diligence to Hispaniola, and, after
34 2 The Autobiography of a Man-o-Wars Bell.
joining the Spanish admiral, when their united
armaments would have numbered fifty ships, to bid
defiance to the British fleet, and wrest from them the
sovereignty of the West Indian waters. On the
morning of the 8th of April, the " Ville de Paris/'
with the rest of our fleet, proceeded to sea; and,,
immediately after, Sir G. Rodney weighed and stood
towards us under all the sail he could carry. On
the following morning, off the island of Guadaloupe,.
the British fleet gained so much upon us, that their
van and centre, including the flag-ship, were within
cannon-shot of our rear. A sharp cannonade now
ensued, which, however, proved partial and inde-
cisive, owing to the wind being light; the greater
portion of their ships being becalmed under the high
lands of Dominica. However, there was some
heavy fighting, and two of our ships were disabled,,
while those of the enemy were somewhat severely
During the course of the action, the " Formid-
able," the flag-ship of Sir G. Rodney, came abreast
of the " Ville de Paris," when the former ship threw
her maintopsail to the mast, as a challenge to the
French admiral ; but, though we were three miles to
windward, the Count de Grasse did not accept the
gauge of battle thus thrown down to him, but kept
The Autobiography of a Man-o'-War's Bell. 343
his wind, and we did not fire a shot the whole day.
There was good reason for this, as it was contrary
to sound policy to engage the British fleet until we
had an overwhelming preponderance; and had the
Count been equally prudent on the I2th, his country
would have been saved a disaster that was almost
irremediable. Our Admiral was not particularly
anxious to bring on a general engagement, and
during the next two days, succeeded in keeping far
to windward, and increasing the distance between
the hostile fleets. The famous battle of the 1 2th of
April, which gained a peerage for the immortal
Rodney, would never have been fought but for an
accident that put it out of the power of the Count
de Grasse to defer the hour of trial. On the previous
day (the nth), as the fleet was sailing in close order,
there being a strong breeze at the time, the " Zele,"
a line-of-battle ship of 74 guns, fouled the " Ville
de Paris," and, carrying away some of her spars
through the violence of the collision, dropped to
leeward in a crippled state. She would inevitably
have fallen into the hands ot the enemy, had not the
Count de Grasse made a signal for the fleet to
shorten sail, and allow her to overtake them.
Rodney, seeing his opportunity, like a skilful sea-
man was not long in availing himself of it, and, by
344 The Autobiography of a Man-d'-Wars Bell.
dint of smart seamanship, succeeded in placing him-
self to windward of a large part of the opposing
squadron, which consisted, at this juncture, of thirty
ships fit for action two having been disabled in the
By daybreak on the I2th April, the British line
of battle was formed in an incredibly short time, and
with a distance of one cable's length between the
ships. Our fleet awaited the attack ; and, as the
signal was given for close action by the British
Admiral, his ships came up in splendid order, and
ranged themselves against their opponents, passing
along the line for that purpose. While doing so,
they gave and received tremendous broadsides. After
some time spent in close and deadly conflict, during
which victory was long held in suspense, the British
Admiral executed a manoeuvre which had never before
been practised in naval tactics. In his own ship,
the tl Formidable," supported by the " Namur," the
" Duke," and the " Canada," he bore down with all sail
set on the enemy's line, within three ships of the centre,
and succeeded in breaking through it in masterly
style. The utmost consternation reigned on board
the " Ville de Paris.," and a portion of our ships,
when they found themselves, by this manoeuvre, cut
off from the rest of the fleet.
The Autobiography of a Man-o'-War's Bell. 345
" In the act of doing so," says Dr. (afterwards
Sir Gilbert) Blane, the surgeon of the flag-ship, " we
passed within pistol-shot of the ' Glorieux/ which
was so terribly handled, that, being shorn of all her
masts, bowsprit, and ensign-staff, but with the white
flag nailed to a stump, and breathing defiance, as it
were, in her last moments, she lay a motionless
hulk, presenting a spectacle which struck our Admi-
ral's fancy as not unlike the remains of a fallen
As soon as Rodney had accomplished this ma-
noeuvre, the rest of his division followed him, wore
round, and doubled on our ships thus placing be-
tween two fires those of our ships, the "Ville de
Paris" among the number, separated from the rest
of the fleet.
Immediately after cutting the French line, Sir
George Rodney made the signal for the van to tack
and gain the wind of the enemy, which was accord-
ingly done. The result of the action \vas now no
longer doubtful, and, after a hopeless struggle, our
ships struck their colours in succession. Though
the victory was decided at the moment when the
" Formidable" broke our line, the effect of it was not
complete until the Count de Grasse, unable to con-
tinue the action, ordered the colours of the " Villc de
346 The Autobiography of a Man-o'-War's Bell.
Paris" to be struck. "The thrill of ecstasy/' writes
an officer who was present, " that penetrated every
British bosom, in the triumphant moment of the
surrender, is not to be described."
The"Villede Paris" had on board some 1300
men, including troops, and, being enveloped in a
perfect hurricane of missiles, the slaughter on her
crowded decks was terrible. By the best accounts
that could be obtained, 300 men were killed and
wounded on board her alone; her sides were riven
with innumerable shot, and her rigging was so torn
that she was reported as having " neither a sail left
nor mast fit to carry a sail, so that, being unable to
keep up with her friends during their flight, and
falling now into the hands of our fleet, the Count de
Grasse had done all that honour required, and was
sufficiently justified in striking his flag." One of the
prizes, the " Glorieux," presented a spectacle of
horror when boarded, which impressed all beholders
even amongst the scenes of carnage around. " The
number killed was so great, that the survivors, either
from want of leisure or through dismay, had not
thrown the bodies of the killed overboard, so that
the decks were covered with the blood and mangled
limbs of the dead, as well as the wounded and dying,
now forlorn and helpless in their sufferings."
The Autobiography of a Man-o -War's BelL 347
After the surrender of the " Ville de Paris," Sir
George Rodney sent Lord Cranstoun, one of the
post-captains of the " Formidable," on board of us,
to beg the. Count de Grasse to remain in his late
flag-ship if he chose. The French Admiral, how-
ever, voluntarily went on board the " Formidable "
next morning, and remained there for two days. He
bore his reverse with fortitude, and indulged in
badinage with Sir Gilbert Blane, the surgeon of the
" Formidable." He observed he had done his duty,
and bitterly upbraided his government for not send-
ing him a reinforcement of twelve ships, as he had
requested, while he attributed his misfortune to those
captains of his fleet who had deserted him, notwith-
standing his repeated signals to them to return to
The ships captured were, besides the flagship,
the "Glorieux," "Caesar," "Hector," 74^3; the
" Ardent/' " Caton," and " Jason," 64% and two
frigates, besides a ship of the line sunk. The fate
of one of these prizes, the " Caesar," was most
tragic. Soon after dark a cask of spirits caught
fire, owing to the carelessness of an English marine,
who was carrying a candle below to search for liquor.
The flames spread so fast that they could not be ex-
tinguished, and, after burning for some time, the fire
348 The Autobiography of a Man-o'-Wars Bell.
reached the powder-magazine, which, exploding, blew
the ship to atoms. Upwards of 400 Frenchmen, in-
cluding the captain, who had been severely wounded,
together with the English officer who boarded her,
with 58 seamen, perished miserably. Rodney, in his
official despatch, placed the loss of the French at
9000 men killed and wounded, while 8000 prisoners
remained in his hands.
The loss of men sustained by the British fleet in
the actions of the 9th and i2th of April, amounted,
on the other hand, to only 237 killed and 760
wounded. Although the British fleet carried 156
more guns, the total weight of their broadside was
less by 4396 Ibs. than that of their opponents;
while the difference in the number of men were
still more to their disadvantage. Those of the
French vessels (I do not use the personal pronoun
now, as I had once more changed hands to my great
delight) that escaped, were reduced to wrecks.
Sir G. Rodney, in a letter to his wife, says "The
battle begen at seven in the morning, and continued
till sunset, nearly eleven hours ; and by persons ap-
pointed to observe, there never was seven minutes'
respite during the engagement, which, I believe, was
the severest that ever was fought at sea, and the
most glorious for England. Count de Grasse, who
The Autobiography of a Man-d -War's Bell. 349
is at this moment sitting in my stern galley, tells me
that he thought his fleet superior to mine, and does
so still, though I had two more in number ; and I
am of his opinion, as his was composed all of large
ships, and ten of mine were only 64's." In a letter
to the same lady, dated the 4th of May, he says :
" Count de Grasse, poor man, now begins to feel the
very great misfortune that has befallen him. As to
himself, he says he is easy, as he is conscious of
having done his duty ; but he fears that the disagree-
ments that will certainly happen among the nobility
of France will occasion much bloodshed. He owns
France (as he himself says) is a century behind us
in naval affairs. And," patriotically adds the British
Admiral, " may they continue so !"
I must conclude this account of the celebrated
battle of the 12th of April with a few words regard-
ing the two commanders-in-chief. The "Ville de
Paris " and the other captured ships of war pro-
ceeded to England, together with the Count de
Grasse, who was the first commander-in-chief of
a French fleet or army who had been a prisoner in
England since the reign of Queen Anne, when
Marshall Tallard was taken by the Duke of Marl-
borough, and confined at Nottingham. He landed
at Portsmouth on the ist of August, when he was
350 The Autobiography of a Mati-o-W 'ar's I>eU.
received with every demonstration of respect and
sympathy for his misfortune; but on his return to
France he was disgraced by his government, and in
the gardens of the Tuileries his life was nearly sacri-
ficed to the fun- of an exasperated mob.
Lord Rodney, having struck his flag, sailed from
Martinique on the 22nd of July, and, after putting
in at Kinsale, arrived in London at the end of
September. He was received with enthusiasm by a
Sjateful court and people, and was created a peer,
with a pension of ^2000 a year attaching to the
title for ever. He lived principally in retirement
after his return to his native land, and expired on
the 23rd of May, 1792, after a few hours* illness,
in the seventy-fourth year of his age, having been
in the navy sixty-two years, upwards of fifty of
which were passed in active service.
Much has been said and written about the credit
due to Rodney for the invention and execution of
this manoeuvre of breaking the enemy's line, and
doubts have arisen whether it was the effect of
design on the present occasion. I suppose there
never has been any great or original conception
carried out with complete success, whether in war
or the more peaceful domain of science, but that
some one else was put forward as the originator.
77/6' A nlobiography of a Man-o- II 'ur's Bell. 3 5 1
Though this manoeuvre may be described in the
work on naval tactics by Clerk, it was expressly
treated by a French writer, Pere Hoste, as early as
1688, whose volume is considered the best extant
on naval tactics. It is said, also, that it was fre-
quently practised in the Dutch Wars. Whether,
however, it was designed by Rodney, or suggested
to him by another (his flag-captain, Sir Charles
Douglas, and others, have been put forward), it is
certain that his genius seized upon it at the critical
moment, and that he was enabled, through the
pains he had taken in training his fleet, to
achieve by it a glorious result; as in armies so
in fleets, that one is effectively the most numerous
that can bring the greatest number into action
at a given point. " Breaking the line," does
not necessarily form part of this tactical opera-
It is curious that on this same I2th of April,
1782, the French Admiral De Suffrein practised this
manoeuvre in an action with Sir Edward Hughes off
Trincomalee, in Ceylon ; that is, he threw the weight
of his fleet on one division of the British, whilst a
smaller part held the remainder in check. For ob-
vious reasons it was omitted altogether by Nelson
at the Nile, though the principle of the manoeuvre
352 The Autobiography of a Man-o-V/ars Bell.
was carried into execution, with what fatal effect is
To return to the autobiography of so humble an
individual (or article, perhaps, would be a more ap-
propriate definition) as myself.
I said that a prize crew was put on board the
"Ville de Paris." Guess my astonishment when I
recognized some well-known faces among the British
officers and seamen, whose jolly, weather-beaten
countenances and pig-tails, I was as glad to see as
if I had myself been blessed with a physiognomy
and a pig-tail. The commanding officer was none
other than William Duckworth ; but so changed.
He had been commander on board the Admiral's
ship, and was sent to take charge of the prize with
post rank. I was glad, indeed, to see his handsome
face, which had not altered a bit, that is what I
could see of it, for it was partially concealed by
a pair of whiskers. The acting boatswain (Jury
Bo'sun, he called himself) was Tim Johnson,
another old friend of the reader's and of his humble
servant the autobiographer, who had been advanced
to this post on account of his gallantry as boat-
swain's mate of the flagship during the action of
the i 2th.
I longed to hear how all these happy results had
The Autobiography of a Man-o'-Wars Bell. 353
been brought about ; how, indeed, the ship's com-
pany of the old " Melpomene " had managed to get
outside the walls of a French prison, and I was at
length enlightened by Tim Johnson himself, who,
one evening over a pipe, confided his history to his
messmate, the gunner, who had likewise been pro-
moted from another ship in the British fleet for
gallantry, From the former I learnt that the officers
and crew of the " Melpomene " were exchanged for
those of a French frigate of equal force, after they
had been in prison only a few months ; that on re-
gaining his freedom he had accompanied his friend
Morris to his estates in England, where the latter
was received by his astonished friends and relatives
as one risen from the dead, and the affair of the duel
having long since blown over, he settled down into
his old ways as a country gentleman. He was very
kind to Johnson, whom he introduced to every one
as a rough diamond of the best water, and his pre-
server, and did all in his power to make him
Johnson at first liked the novelty and ease of his
position, and, more than all, he liked the unlimited
supply of grog unlimited, that is, until his patron,
fearful that he would drink himself into a premature
grave, placed him on an allowance of a pint a day.
354 The Autobiography of a M an- J -War's Bell.
Johnson acquiesced in the arrangement ; " it was
more than he got at sea/' was the thought with
which he solaced himself, but the restraints of shore
life became first irksome and then intolerable; at
length his soul sickened for the excitement of a
naval career in war time, and his health began to
fail for the want of the invigorating breezes of the
ocean, upon which it may almost be said with truth
he had been cradled, and so at length, after a vain
attempt on the part of his friend to induce him to
remain, he took his departure, expressing his astonish-
ment that any man could stand such a life, "and
take to hunting hares, and such like, after chasing
Frenchmen, which is something like sport." After
serving in different ships, and various parts of the
world, he was appointed to the " Formidable," Sir
George Rodney's flag-ship, then fitting out for ser-
vice, and \vas recognized by James Duckworth, whom
the Admiral had appointed his flag commander.
Thus they once more came together, and when the
officer was appointed to the command of the stately
prize, with the commission of a post-captain, he did
not forget his old shipmate, but took him with him
as his boatswain. I thought now of the last words I
heard the latter exclaim as he went over the side of
the " Melpomene/' a prisoner, after her capture off
The Autobiography of a Man-J -War's Bell. 355.
Brest, though I suppose the sturdy old sailor did
not lay claim to a prophetic vision of the future
when he uttered them.
On our arrival in England, I was taken out of
the " Ville de Paris/' I suppose as a trophy though,
unlike the treatment most trophies receive, I was
put away out of sight in a lumber-room at Ports-
mouth ; and, after lying there a great many years,
unheeded by every one whose duty brought them into
my company, on the breaking out of the Revolution,
I was fitted on board one of the ships of the Royal
Navy. Some other day, I may relate to you all the
vicissitudes through which I passed during a naval
war, the most memorable and glorious that our
country has ever engaged in. Finally, in .1831, on
the founding of the Royal United Service Institution
(or the United Service Museum, as it was first called
by his late Majesty, King William the Fourth, who,
as a sailor king, took the greatest interest in its well-
being), I, the old man-o'-war's bell, was placed with
other naval curiosities in that interesting collection ;
and there I may be inspected by any visitor who, on
presentation of his or her card, as the case may be
for the ladies like nautical relics will be admitted to
admire my proportions, and muse over the interest-
ing historical associations with which, if I may be
356 The Autobiography of a Man-tf -War's Bell.
permitted to say so without undue egotism, my
career is connected.
And now, here I am, safely moored at last ! In
these peaceful days, when the talk I hear around me
is chiefly of Universal Expositions, deep-sea tele-
graphs, modern improvements in every department,
social, political, and military, and such dry-as-dust
topics, instead of glorious victories and frigate-
duels such as I have witnessed in these degenerate
days (I speak solely, mind you, from the point of
view of an old-world salt, who has outlived not only
all his generation, but his era) will it be believed,
they use me for the purpose of ringing all visitors
out when the hour for closing the museum has
struck. This undignified treatment daily excites my
ire, and induces in me longings that I could have
recourse to the Japanese custom of "happy dis-
patch,'' and either crack my sides, or have them
cracked by the modern porter whether soldier or
sailor, in the Society's uniform of blue, without pipe-
olay, or pigtail, or any such thing who causes my
tongue to wag in my cavernous jaws. Ah, well !
I suppose I ought to be contented ; but old salts
are allowed the privilege of grumbling, and, as I
cannot have recourse to the mollifying influences of
7^,? A utobiography of a Man-o'- War's Bell. 357
a tot of grog and a plug of tobacco, why, I intend to
avail myself of
" Ring a ring a ring a ring a ring."
I started up, and found my old friend the naval
porter regarding me with a broad grin on his face,
and lugging away at the tongue of the bell beside
which I had been enjoying a siesta on that hot sum-
A great poet, comparing the realities of dream-
land with those of daily life, says :
" Sleep hath its world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence."
This world, then, in which I had been living, was
only a world of sleep; and as unrealistic was the
" In its development has breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy."
And yet, indeed, the dream seemed to me, as I stood
for a moment rubbing my eyes, as much a reality
as would a retrospect of my own life, had I indulged
in it during that short summer hour. Thus, in the
baseless fabric of a vision, melts away THE AUTO-
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