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Edward Pellew's - Dispatches
PELLEW to THE ADMIRALTY BOARD
Indefatigable, Falmouth. 17th January, 1797
Sir, - I have the honour to make known to you for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that on Friday last the 13th instant, in latitude 47o 30' N, Ushant bearing NE 50 leagues, we discovered at half-past noon a large ship in the NW quarter, steering under easy sail for France. The wind was then at west, blowing hard, with thick hazy weather. I instantly made the signal to the Amazon for a general chase, and follow'd it by the signal that the chase was an enemy. At 4 P.M. the Indefatigable had gained sufficiently upon the chase for me to distinguish very clearly that she had two tier of guns, with her lower deck ports shut. She had no poop, and according to my judgement she was a French ship en razé. At a quarter before 5 I observed with considerable regret that she had carried away her fore and topmasts. The Indefatigable at the same instant lost her steering-sail booms. The ship at this time was going 11 or 12 knots, blowing very hard and a great sea. I foresaw from this that the escape of the enemy under her lower masts only in a stormy night of 14 hours continuance, should her defence prove obstinate, was very possible, and I believed as a ship of large force that she would be reduced to persevere in her resistance from the expectation that we should be apprehensive of entangling ourselves upon a lee shore with the wind dead upon it.
The instant she lost her topmasts I reduced my sails to close reef'd topsails, and at 15 minutes before 6 we brought the enemy to close action, which continued to be well supported on both sides near an hour, when we unavoidably shot ahead. At this moment the Amazon appeared astern, and gallantly supplied our place, but the eagerness of Captain Reynolds to second his friend had brought him up under a press of sail, and after a well-supported and close fire for a little time, he unavoidably shot ahead also. The enemy, who had nearly effected running me on board, appear'd to be much larger than the Indefatigable, and from her very heavy fire of musketry I believe was very full of men. The fire was continued until the end of the action with great vivacity altho' she frequently defended both sides of the ship at once.
As soon as we had replaced some necessary rigging, and the Amazon had reduced her sail, we commenced a second attack, placing ourselves after some raking broadsides upon each quarter, and this attack, often within pistol shot, was by both ships unremitted for above 5 hours. Then we sheer'd off to secure our masts. It would be needless to relate to their lordships every effort that we make in an attack which commenced at a quarter before 6 P.M. and ceased not but at intervals until half-past 4 A.M.
Night actions should not be inconsiderably engaged in, but in this instance everything was to be hazarded or the escape of the enemy was absolutely certain, and altho' she was running for her own ports, yet the confidence I felt in my own knowledge of the coast of France forbade me to listen for a moment to any suggestions of danger there from. I placed also some considerable reliance that her commander would not voluntarily sacrifice his ship and his crew by running her for a dangerous part of the coast, and I promised myself to see the day before we should have run down our distance. But in fact every creature was too earnestly and too hardily at work to attend exactly to the run of the ship, and I believe 10 hours or more severe fatigue was scarcely every experienced. The sea was high, the people on the main deck were up to their middles in water, some guns broke their breechings four times over, and some drew the ring-bolts from the sides, and many of them were repeatedly drawn immediately after loading. All our masts were much wounded, and the maintop mast completely unrigg'd, and saved only by uncommon alacrity.
At about 20 minutes past 4 the moon opening rather brighter than before, showed to Lieutenant George Bell, who was watchfully looking out on the forecastle, a glimpse of land. He had scarcely reached me to report it when we saw the breakers; we were then close under the enemy's starboard bow, and the Amazon as near upon the larboard. Not an instant could be lost, and every life depended upon the prompt execution of my orders, and here it is with heartfelt pleasure I acknowledge the full value of my officers and ship's company who, with incredible alacrity, hauled the tacks on the board, and made sail to the southward. The land could not be ascertained, but we took it to be Ushant, and in the Bay of Brest, crippled as we were, I had no particular fears; but before day we again saw breakers upon the lee bow; the ship was instantly wore to the northward, and myself satisfied that the land we had before seen was not Ushant. The lingering approach of daylight was most anxiously look'd for by all, and soon after it opened we saw the land very close ahead. We again wore to the southward in 20 fathoms water, and in a few minutes after discovered the enemy, who had so bravely defended herself, laying on her broadside, and a tremendous surf beating over her; and the miserable fate of her brave but unhappy crew was perhaps the more sincerely lamented by us from the apprehensions of suffering a similar misfortune. We passed her within a mile in a very bad condition, with 4 feet of water in the hold, a great sea, and the wind dead on the shore; but we ascertained to a certainty our situation to be that of Audierne Bay, and our fate depended upon the possible chance of weathering the Pennmark Rocks. Exhausted as we were with fatigue, every exertion was made, and every inch of canvas set that could be carried, and at 11 A.M. we made the breakers, and by the blessing of God weather'd the Pennmark Rocks about half a mile.
The Amazon had haul'd her wind to the northward when we did to the southward; her condition I think was better than ours, and I knew that her activity and exertions were fully equal to them. The judgement with which she was managed during so long an action and the gallantry of her attacks could not but warm the bosom of every spectator, and to the heart of a friend it was particularly delightful. I have full as much reason to speak highly of my own officers and men, to whom I owe infinite obligation, the Lieutenants Thomson, Norway, and Bell, Lieutenants O'Connor and Wilson of the Marines, and Mr. Thomson the master, have abundant claims upon my gratitude as well as every inferior officer in the ship.
The sufferings of the Amazon are unknown to me. I am singularly happy to say that my own is inconsiderable. The first lieutenant, Mr. Thomson, a brave and worthy officer, is the only one of that description wounded, with eighteen men, twelve of which number have wounds of no serious consequence, consisting chiefly of violent contusions from splinters. I have the honour to enclose the minutes of this action with a state of the damages sustained therein, and shall in a few days proceed to Plymouth to be ready to receive their lordships' orders for the repair of the said defects, and am, with great respect, Sir,
Your most obedient and humble servant