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Pellew's/Exmouth's - Dispatches
PELLEW to NEPEAN
Indefatigable, Falmouth. 23rd April, 1796.
Sir,--I have most
sensible pleasure in desiring you to inform my Lords
Commissioners of the Admiralty of my arrival at this port,
accompanied by the French national frigate La Virginie of 44 guns, 18 and 9 pounders and 340 men, commanded by Citizen Bergeret
Captain du Vasseau (sic) who sailed from Brest singly 4 days ago
to cruise off the Lizard in this favourite frigate which is
considered the finest ship and fastest sailer in the French navy,
and of the largest dimensions, being 158 feet long, and 43 broad.
On Wednesday morning the 20th instant, after I had sealed my dispatches for their lordships, lying-to under the Lizard with the squadron, waiting for the French frigate La Unité our prize to weather that point, I observed a ship coming in from the sea, which in mind looked rather suspicious, and on her not answering the private signal, when she tack'd from us, I immediately gave chase to her, accompanied by the Amazon, and La Concorde (having by signal directed La Revolutionnaire to attend her prize into port, and the Argo to proceed to Plymouth). The superior sailing of the Indefatigable gave me the satisfaction of coming up with her, after a chase of 15 hours and running 168 miles. Fortunately the wind prevented her from steering for Ushant or she must have escaped. A little past midnight I commenced action with the enemy, which was closely continued under a crowded sail, for one hour and forty-five minutes. The enemy, who fought gallantly, was by this time much crippled, her mizzen mast and main topmast being shot away. The Indefatigable was not much less disabled, having lost her gaff mizzen topmast. The main topsail was rendered useless by an unlucky shot cutting both leech ropes. In this situation we passed the enemy without the power of avoiding it, having no after sail to back, and I had long discovered that we had not only to combat a ship of large force, but that her commander was completely master of his profession, in whose presence I could not commit myself with impunity by throwing my ship in the wind, without submitting to be raked by him.
She had not at this time struck, and we kept close ahead of her, reeving new braces to enable us to bring the ship to renew the attack. At this period La Concorde appeared close under her stern, and upon the enemy's seeing her she fired a gun to leeward and struck her light as a signal of surrender.
Altho' a very few minutes would have placed the Indefatigable again alongside of her, I am confident she would not have surrendered without further resistance had not the Concorde so timely come up. I am extremely indebted to Captains Hunt and Reynolds for their very particular attention in keeping after us during the night, on so many courses, which nothing but the most delicate observance of my signals could have enabled them to do, their distance astern being so great. Their lordships are well aware how difficult it is in a night action with a flying enemy, whose rate of sailing is little inferior to her antagonist, to choose a situation, and when it is remembered how often this ship changed hers in the action, I need scarcely say what great attention was paid to my orders by every officer under my command. To Lieutenants Pellowe, Thomson, and Norway my thanks are above expression; Lieutenant Williams of the Marines, and Mr. Bell the master who were immediately about my person, rendered me the most essential services. The ship's company, who have been my faithful companions during the war and are endeared to me by their uniform exertions, manifested on this occasion nothing but ardour and zeal.
But above all other pleasures that I feel is that of informing their lordships that I have lost neither officer nor man in the contest. The enemy suffered considerably, having 14 or 15 killed, 17 badly wounded, and 10 slightly; the ship much shattered in her hull and four feet of water in her hold from shot holes.
I trust the services of my first officer, Lieutenant Pellowe, on several occasions in this war, and his exemplary character both as a gentleman and officer, need not my feeble voice to introduce him to notice. Their lordships' liberality upon all fair occasions of this sort has given to the navy of England many of its best commanders; a better than this officer it cannot give.
I have sent the Concorde on to Plymouth with La Virginie and shall proceed with the Amazon, who has lost her head, for the same place tomorrow in order to repair damages we have sustained in the action, a statement of which I have the honour to send herewith. Enclosed I transmit the journal of our proceedings during the cruise, and am, Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant,
1. According to James (1. p.360) she earlier carried 22 guns in broadside. The Indefatigable was much superior, being a razée or cut-down 64-gun ship, mounting 26 long 24-pounders on her main deck, and 2 long 12-pounders and 18 42-pounder carronades on the quarterdeck and forecastle--in all 46 guns. Her tonnage was 1384 tp tje Virginie's 1066, an her broadside 702 lb. to the other's 342 lb.