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Title: Rodney
Author: Hannay, David
Language: English
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                         English Men of Action


                       [Illustration: colophon]

                        [Illustration: RODNEY]



                             DAVID HANNAY

                           MACMILLAN AND CO.
                             and New York

                         _All rights reserved_




FAMILY AND EARLY CAREER                                                1


SERVICE AS CAPTAIN TILL 1752                                          19


MARRIAGE, THE PRESS-GANG, AND THE FLAG                                35


FLAG RANK AND PARLIAMENT                                              52


SIXTEEN YEARS OF PEACE                                                70


THE RELIEF OF GIBRALTAR                                               86


THE WEST INDIES                                                      106


THE CAMPAIGN OF 1780                                                 122


ST. EUSTATIUS                                                        143


RODNEY’S STAY IN ENGLAND                                             164


TO APRIL 12TH                                                        174


THE BREAKING OF THE LINE                                             188


THE END                                                              214



George Brydges Rodney, the most famous of the great generation of
English admirals who raised the navy to the level at which Nelson found
it, was by descent a Somersetshire man. The family was one of
considerable antiquity--of more antiquity indeed than fame. From the
reign of Henry the Third until far into the seventeenth century they
were established as owners of land in and about Stoke Rodney, at the
foot of the Mendips, in the valley of the Axe between Draycott and
Wells. The history of the house was summed up by Sir Edward Rodeney, the
last of them who held the family estate, in words which I do not presume
to think I can better, and shall therefore quote.

     Their faults whatsoever are not written in great letters, or become
     the subject of common fame, or the courts of justice; but as they
     lived without scandal, so they died without shame, going out of the
     world by the ordinary gate of sickness, and never by the hand of
     violence, some few excepted of ancient times, that died in the
     wars, and the late unfortunate gentleman, Sir George Rodeney, who
     fell by his own sword; and although civil dissentions, in the
     Barons Wars, did engage men in one side or the other, yet they for
     any I can find lived in a calm amidst these tempests, and were not
     entangled in the quarrels of the times. The reason of it may be
     that having a firm estate of their own, and able to subsist of
     themselves, they kept independent, living within their own orb, and
     mastering those affections of envy and ambition which commonly do
     but raise men for a greater fall. They had been always, from the
     time we first discover them, of the middle rank of subjects which
     is the most safe place--“_Cives medii salvi sunt maxime_,” few or
     none of better estate, under the degree of Lords until the great
     flood of Church lands (whereof they possessed not one foot)
     improved many men’s fortunes to a great height; nay, which is
     strange, from Sir Richard Rodeney, who was borne under Henry the
     Third, to Sir George Rodeney in 42 of Elizabeth, the space of above
     four hundred years, they stood like _Mare Mortuum_ and neither
     ebbed nor flowed in their fortunes; they were so provident not to
     lessen; but neither by marriages, which is the ordinary step of
     augmentation, nor by any other means did they make any addition,
     insomuch that at this day I give the coat single which my ancestors
     gave without quartering any other.

Here, adorned with the brocaded elegance proper to the time of the
writer, is a summing up of the history of a solid English country
family. Stoke Rodney lay out of the track of the great storms of English
history, and its position helped the family to stand like _Mare Mortuum_
for four hundred years. Still, a house which could live through all that
happened in England between Henry the Third and Elizabeth without loss
or gain, must have been of an equable temperament, free from great
vices, follies, or qualities. The last stage was less peaceful, for Sir
Edward Rodeney has to record money troubles and family disputes. He was
himself a more stirring man than his ancestors had been. In his youth he
fled abroad with Sir Edward Seymour, the husband of Arabella Stuart,
afterwards Marquis of Hertford. His exile, however, was short. He
returned, was married, not, as he complacently records, without
splendour of ceremonial, to Mistress Frances Southwell, “a lady of Queen
Anna’s private chamber,” in 1614, and spent the remainder of his life as
a country gentleman in the west. In 1626 he was a deputy-lieutenant, and
felt himself called upon to explain in his place in Parliament the
excesses of the pressed men who were drawn into the west by Buckingham’s
unlucky expeditions, and were treated as to pay and provend with that
little care which Captain Dugald Dalgetty told the Marquis of Montrose
might, according to custom, be bestowed on the common soldier. Sir
Edward was a strong Royalist, and lived long enough to suffer for his
royalism. Although he was otherwise a man much of the same kidney, he
did not share the Baron of Bradwardine’s opinions as to the duty of
keeping a family estate in the male line. His only son died before him,
and he allowed Stoke Rodney to pass to his daughters. One of these
ladies married into the family of Brydges of Kainsham, and thereby
supplied a cousin of hers with a useful connection.

Sir Edward could have found male heirs had he so chosen, for he had
three brothers: Henry, who was drowned on the coast of Africa; William,
who does not concern us; and George. From this George came Anthony (the
first of the family who spelt his name Rodney), Lieutenant-Colonel of
Leigh’s regiment of horse, who served under Peterborough in Spain, and
Henry. This Henry was the father of the Admiral. Having begun as a
cornet of horse, he left the army and then was appointed, by the
interest of his connection the Duke of Chandos, the representative of
the Brydges of Kainsham, to a post in the Royal Yacht of George the
First. Henry Rodney had a family of five children by his wife, Mary,
daughter of Sir Henry Newton, “Envoy-Extraordinary to the Grand Duke of
Tuscany, and afterwards Judge of the Admiralty, etc. etc.” He naturally
profited by his position for the good of his family. The King stood
godfather to the second son, together with the Duke of Chandos, and the
boy was christened George Brydges. It was for this reason, according to
Major-General Mundy, the Admiral’s son-in-law and the editor of his
correspondence, that the Christian name of George, which had been common
in the Rodney family, was given to the boy who was to live to break the
French line on August 12th, 1782.

This is the family account of the Admiral’s descent, and there is no
reason to doubt its substantial accuracy. Sir Egerton Brydges, than whom
no one was better entitled to insist on the delusions to which men are
subject when their pedigrees are in question, does indeed utter a word
of warning in his edition of Collins’ Peerage. He remarks with perfect
truth that “the slender notice taken of such branches [as this younger
branch of the Rodneys to wit] in the Heralds’ Visitations, the long
disuse of those visitations, together with the general confusion in
which this kingdom was involved by the Civil War between King Charles
and the Parliament, and the great destruction of family deeds and
evidences which it occasioned, must render it extremely difficult, if
not altogether impossible, for not only his lordship, but also most of
the descendants from younger sons of the best families of the kingdom to
join themselves to their old family stock.” These are words of wisdom,
and it is just possible that the Admiral did not really descend from the
Rodneys of Rodney Stoke. Still there is good evidence to show that the
claim was well founded. It was recognised by the Duke of Chandos when
the Admiral had become famous, which is something; and, what is much
more, it was allowed in his youth by George Brydges of Avington and
Kainsham--a representative of the house into which Sir Edward Rodeney’s
daughter had married. Sir Egerton Brydges has himself recorded that
young Rodney “was brought up and spent part of his early youth under the
patronage of George Brydges of Avington and Kainsham, which confirms the
presumption of his descent.” We may therefore take it as reasonably well
proved that the Count de Grasse, who by the way dated from the tenth
century, was defeated and taken off Dominica by a gentleman of descent
not greatly inferior to his own. It is just possible that the Admiral’s
Christian names were given in compliment to the kinsman who patronised
his early youth. Henry Rodney was at least fortunate in that he was able
to so name his son as to give him a species of claim on his King, on one
whom his King delighted to honour, and on a relation whose interest was
well worth having. The boy started in life in the position of a
gentleman with excellent connections.

Rodney was in all probability one of the many famous men who belong by
birth to London. He was baptized on February 13th, 1718, at St.
George’s-in-the-Fields, and it may be considered as certain that he was
born in the January of the same year. His schooling, which cannot have
been prolonged, was received at Harrow--then a grammar school of no
especial fame. At the age of twelve he went to sea as a King’s-letter
boy, being the last of those who entered the navy in that way.

The term King’s-letter boy requires some little explanation. Nothing
distinguished our ancestors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
from their descendants of to-day more completely than their indifference
to formal regularity in the organisation of the public services, and
their tolerance of anomalies. As for organisation, they were satisfied
with as little of it as would serve the turn, and they endured anomalies
with serene indifference as long as they were not intolerable in their
practical results. They were not much addicted to giving their idea of
an organisation, and when they did were inspired by the faith that if
only the right men were got to fill places the good work would follow.
The getting of good men, they held, was only possible by the strenuous
application of patriotism, zeal for the King’s service, and intelligence
on the part of those who had to select. Therefore they were content to
allow a great freedom of choice to those in authority. The navy itself,
though its efficiency was a matter of life and death to the nation, was
contentedly left in a condition which on all modern principles should
have had disastrous results. There was a central corps of commissioned
officers--lieutenants, captains, and admirals. These men formed the
permanent staff of the navy. Whether on active service or not, they were
on the list, and drew pay. All others who were employed, warrant
officers, petty officers, and men, were shipped as in the merchant
service for the voyage. Their connection with the navy was limited to
the ship on which they served, and terminated with the commission. Until
some years after Rodney entered the navy the loss of a ship by wreck was
held to terminate the engagement of all the crew. Their pay ceased, and
with the pay their obligation to obey orders. It was not until it was
found impossible to punish the men who so cruelly deserted Captain
Cheape after the wreck of the _Wager_ on Anson’s voyage that the modern
practice was introduced of holding that the commission of the ship lasts
till she has been formally paid off, and with it the liability of all
hands to punishment by court-martial. Hence the apparent absurdity by
which a captain may be dismissed from a vessel which has been at the
bottom of the sea for months. If she were not regularly paid off,
captain, officers, and men would continue to belong to her, and to draw
their full pay so long as they lived. At all times, no doubt, there were
warrant officers and seamen who served for life, and the dockyards had a
permanent staff. None the less it was wholly the theory, and very much
the practice, that when a ship was paid off, all who had been on board
her except her captain and lieutenants ceased to be officially connected
with the navy. So long as squadrons had to be fitted out it was
convenient for the Admiralty to have warrant officers and seamen under
its hand. So those who chose to engage again were commonly taken on; but
there was no obligation to take them, nor were they bound to serve,
unless they were pressed again.

From out of this body were chosen the lieutenants, and here the
indifference of our ancestors to finish of organisation was very
strongly shown. There were a number of regulations as to what qualified
a man for a commission, but in practice the rule was that any one who
had served a term of years at sea, of which some were in a king’s ship,
who could hand, reef, and steer, could navigate a little and keep a log,
who could find a friend to put in a word for him in the right quarter,
was competent to receive a commission. If the friend could not be found
then he might go on in the navy for life without ever, in Nelson’s
phrase, getting his foot on the ladder. He might remain a midshipman,
who was, and is, a warrant officer, till his death. Moreover, if he
could not get a ship when his last had been paid off, the Admiralty did
not recognise him. Men could be made lieutenants from before the mast,
and there are cases of such promotions. A captain, as all readers of
Marryat’s _King’s Own_ will remember, could put boys on the
quarter-deck. If at a later period he had the interest, he could obtain
a commission for his client. There is a romantic story told about that
Admiral Campbell who was Hawke’s flag-captain at Quiberon, which, as it
illustrates the navy of Rodney’s time, may be told here. Campbell was
the son of a Scotch minister, and was apprenticed to the skipper of a
small trading craft in the west of Scotland. The vessel was overhauled
by a king’s ship with a press warrant. The navy captain selected those
of her crew who seemed best worth pressing. Among them was a
newly-married man, who, overcome at the prospect of indefinite
separation from his young wife, began to cry. Campbell knew that as an
apprentice he was exempt from the press, but he knew also that the
King’s service went over everything. If he chose to volunteer he could
thereby break his indentures. Being a boy of a tender heart and a high
spirit he resolved to save the husband if he could. He therefore went up
to the naval officer and offered a bargain. He presented himself as a
substitute for the sailor. The officer very sensibly took the offer,
saying that he thought a spirited lad a good exchange for a blubbering
man. Campbell made up his kit, and went to serve King George as powder
monkey. But his spirit had pleased the naval captain, and after a time
this gentleman put him on the quarter-deck, introduced him to good
friends, who helped him to share in Anson’s famous voyage, and so to win
his commission as lieutenant. Once on the ladder, Campbell rose by force
of native faculty, and his power of making people believe in him. He
lived to be at Hawke’s right hand at Quiberon, to become the friend of
Keppel, and he died an admiral. Even if this story has been somewhat
embellished, it shows what was thought possible in Rodney’s time, and
illustrates what may fairly be called the elasticity of our old naval
practice. No man could be a lieutenant who had not served the King; but
he who had, whether it was as foremast-hand, master’s mate, midshipman,
or captain’s servant (for young gentlemen were put on the quarter-deck
under that title), and could be said to be competent, could in the old
naval phrase “be made,” if he could induce an admiral in command of a
squadron who had a vacancy, or the Admiralty at home, to make him.

This laxity, as it would be called now, had its bad side, no doubt. Mean
men in mean times took advantage of it, and permitted themselves a good
deal of favouritism and jobbery. But it had its good side too. A captain
might pay his tailor’s bill by putting his tailor’s son on the
quarter-deck; but he was much more likely to put his own son or nephew,
or the son of an old comrade, there. In any case his own honour was
concerned in the fitness of the lad whom he thus marked out as candidate
for a lieutenant’s commission. An admiral might give his own incompetent
offspring a commission or a ship. Marryat has preserved a wild legend
about an admiral who did so, and then, when the youth made a fool of
himself, inflicted paternal chastisement on him in the after cabin of
the flag-ship--perhaps with a piece of inch-and-a-half with a Turk’s
head on it. As a matter of sober fact, an admiral who knew how much his
own honour and even safety depended on the fitness of his officers had
every motive to select them well--when he had a chance to select them at
all. At any rate the system, or no system, which allowed the rapid rise
of Anson and Hawke, Saunders and Pocock, Rodney, the Hoods, Howe,
Collingwood, and Nelson, can dare to be judged by its fruits. Could the
most uniform organisation, the most careful avoidance of favouritism and
jobbery, have done better for us?

Our fathers were at ease in their minds on the subject, for about 1730
they--and here we come back to the King’s-letter boy--saw the abolition
of the only approach to an organisation by which a regular corps of
candidates for a lieutenant’s commission had till then been provided;
and they saw it with indifference. During the Restoration, and in the
early part of the eighteenth century, it had been the custom to send a
certain number of boys on board ship with a King’s “Letter of Service.”
These lads were considered to have a better right to be made lieutenants
than others. They answered, in fact, to the modern cadet. It does not
seem that they were held to be entitled to a commission, but they were
more likely to get it than another. As a Letter of Service would not be
given except to those who had some interest, they probably did get their
commissions as a rule. In this way some regular provision was made for
the supply of a corps of officers. About 1730, however, the elder Byng,
he who won the battle off Cape Passaro, being then a commissioner at the
Admiralty, decided to abolish the King’s Letter, and to establish a
naval school at Portsmouth in which boys might be trained for the sea
service. This sounds very modern, but Byng carried out his reform in the
genuine spirit of the eighteenth century. He did not declare that only
those should become lieutenants who had passed through the naval school,
and he did leave the expense of supporting the boys who went to study
there wholly to their families. It was therefore not the interest of a
parent who could get his boy sent straight on board ship to send him to
the naval school. So, though the place went on it was much neglected,
and many of the most famous naval officers who entered the service after
it had been established had never belonged to it. Rodney was, it has
been said already, the last of those who entered the navy in the old

When he first went to sea we were in the middle of the long peace
maintained by Walpole. A considerable naval force was kept up, for
though Sir Robert would not use the fleet, he never allowed foreigners
to forget it was there to be used in case of need. Little notice was
taken of midshipmen in those days--so little, in fact, that it is often
impossible to tell when an officer first went to sea. The actual date
of the entry into the service of so famous a man as Lord Hawke was long
unknown. According to General Mundy, Rodney’s first captain was Medley,
afterwards an admiral, and he passed most of his early years of service
on the Newfoundland station. He became an officer when he was “made” by
Haddock in the Mediterranean on February 15th, 1739. It would seem,
therefore, that Rodney’s interest was not strong enough to get him a
commission till after an apprenticeship of nine years, or nearly thrice
the period required by the rules of the service. In this respect he was
far less lucky than his contemporary Howe, who was in command of a ship
before he was twenty.

In 1739 the long peace was at an end, and England had entered on the
three-quarters of a century of fighting, relieved by uneasy truces,
which were to leave her the uncontested mistress of the seas. The war
which began about Jenkins’ Ear and developed into the Austrian
Succession had just broken out. A fleet was sent into the Mediterranean
under Nicholas Haddock, member of an Essex family which had been
distinguished in the navy from the Commonwealth time. Haddock’s duty was
to look after any Spanish squadron which might put to sea, to support
our garrison at Minorca, to take prizes, and to ravage the coast. The
work was well done, but it afforded few opportunities of distinction.
Spain was too weak to meet us openly, and the English fleet was mostly
engaged in blockading Don José Navarro at Cadiz, and in endeavouring to
keep the Straits of Gibraltar free from privateers. Towards the close of
1741 the Spaniards succeeded in slipping to sea while Haddock was at
Gibraltar, and in covering the despatch of Spanish troops from Barcelona
to Northern Italy, where they were to operate against the Austrians for
the purpose of putting the Milanese into the possession of the Infante
Don Felipe. The escape of Don José and the passage of the Spaniards was
a famous incident of the times, and the cause of much clamour; but it
has no connection with the life of Rodney, and may be left alone here.
It was almost a matter of course that the retreat of Haddock should be
put down to the profound cunning which, to the unending joy of all
Englishmen of humour, is attributed to us by the sagacious foreigner. We
went away to gain our private ends. The true explanation was simpler.
Ships grew rapidly foul in the time before the value of copper-sheeting
had been discovered. Haddock’s vessels wanted scraping, and, moreover,
had been knocked about by the autumn storms; so he retired to Gibraltar
to refit. While he was there Navarro slipped out and ran through the
Gut. As soon as the squadron was ready for sea Haddock followed. When he
came up with the Spaniards he found them in company with a French
squadron under M. de Court. The French Admiral informed him that the
Italian enterprise was undertaken in alliance with his master, and that
no attack on the Spaniards could be permitted. England and France were
still nominally at peace, though they were actively opposed to one
another in the character of allies to Austria or Prussia. The position
was an extraordinary one, and Haddock very pardonably shrank from the
responsibility of attacking the allies. He retired to Minorca and waited
for orders.

For a period of more than a year after this the English, French, and
Spaniards remained in a state of war which was no war, and peace which
was not peace. The allies lay at Toulon quarrelling and fighting duels.
The English watched them from Minorca or Hyères Bay. The French would
not allow us to attack the Spanish squadron, but they left us at full
liberty to obtain water and provisions in their territory. They even
went so far as to tolerate the destruction of five Spanish galleys by
our fire-ships in St. Tropez Bay, but they were notoriously preparing to
fight us a little later on. Altogether, the diplomatic and military
situation was one to which it would be hard to find a parallel. In this,
as in the previous stage of the naval war, few opportunities for real
service were afforded, and, such as they were, none of them came in
Rodney’s way.

Early in 1742 Haddock’s health broke down and he returned to England.
After a brief period, during which Rear-Admiral Lestock held the
command, Admiral Mathews arrived from England with reinforcements to
take it over. The change did no harm to Rodney, who was appointed by the
new commander to the _Plymouth_, sixty-four, on a vacancy made by the
transfer of Captain Watson to the _Dragon_. Immediately afterwards he
was sent home with a convoy, and so escaped having to bear a part in the
most inglorious passage in the history of the English navy--the battle
of February 11th, 1744, off Toulon, and the long series of scandalous
court-martials which arose out of it. We have happily no concern with
the miserable Mathews and Lestock quarrel except to note that as the
Admiral was afterwards dismissed the service for bearing down on the
enemy out of his line of battle, it served to harden that hide-bound
system of tactics which made naval engagements so utterly indecisive
till Rodney himself broke through it thirty-eight years later in the
West Indies. The acting rank as post-captain conferred by the command of
the _Plymouth_ was confirmed on his arrival in England, and he was now
firmly established on the ladder. A man rose from lieutenant to captain
by selection, from captain to admiral by seniority, and if post-rank did
not come too late, was tolerably sure of reaching flag-rank. Whether he
would ever actually hoist his flag at sea would still depend on luck and
merit. Rodney had passed from the great class below lieutenant which had
no rights, and from the rank of lieutenant which was the highest reached
by many men, not so rapidly as some of his contemporaries, but still
speedily. At five-and-twenty years of age, and with twelve years of
service, he stood on his own quarter-deck with the best of prospects
that he might one day command a fleet.

Although these years of apprenticeship contain no incident of interest
in Rodney’s career, they--and particularly the last three of them--must
have been of vital importance to him. They had taught him his business
as a matter of course, and had hardened him to the sea life. How hard it
was we know from _Roderick Random_. There is a certain amount of
deliberate exaggeration for purposes of literary effect in Smollett’s
great book, but its essential truth is beyond dispute. A ship is never
for those who have to work her, or fight her, a luxurious
dwelling-place, but in the early eighteenth century the interval between
what would be counted decent comfort on shore and the utmost attainable
comfort at sea was indeed great. Ships were small, and crowded with men
and guns. The between-decks were low, ill ventilated, and abounding in
stenches. Officers of all ranks slept in hammocks, and captains who were
anxious for the efficiency of their ships would not tolerate standing
cabins. It may be asserted with confidence that the officers of His
Majesty’s ships were worse lodged, about 1740, than the crew of a
sailing merchant-vessel of to-day. A man had to be made of tough stuff
to stand it all. When Rodney was captain of the _Eagle_ he took his
brother to sea with him. One cruise was enough for James Rodney, and he
went ashore for good on his return to port. Even those who were made of
sterner fibre could not endure the hardships of the life. They broke
down with gout, rheumatism, and diseases of the nature of scurvy,
brought on by exposure, bad air, and bad food. Habitual indulgence in
fiery liquors had something to do with the prevalence of gout and stone
among naval men, but the fiery liquors were not only the fashion of the
time, they were also the natural refuge of men whose nerves were
affected by stinks and whose palates were exasperated by salt food. In
the matter of liquor, Rodney probably went with the multitude around him
to do evil, taking his share of whatever bumbo or hypsy (dreadful
compounds of rum or brandy and wine, all young and all fiery, disguised
in spices) was going on board or ashore. At least he never shrank from
more fashionable dissipations in later times, and probably did not care
to be singular in earlier days. When he was famous there were old men
who boasted that they had shared in the carouses of his youth. Then,
too, he had tell-tale sufferings in later years from the gout, the
prevailing disease of that hard-drinking generation.

All this, however, was the life of his time and his service which he
shared with other men. To him, who was born to be a great commander, the
spectacle afforded by the fleet during his three years’ service must
indeed have been especially instructive. It must have taught him what a
squadron ought not to be, and how it ought not to be managed. The navy
of that time was the navy of Hawser Trunnion, Esquire. Now one may have
a real affection for Hawser Trunnion personally, and yet be compelled to
acknowledge that the generation of officers of which he is the type
fought less well than English naval men have done before or since. It
was not that they were not brave, for they often were; nor yet that they
were not seamen, for that also they were; but there was far too often
something which they preferred to the discharge of their duty. It was
often party politics, for they were very Whig and very Tory. Too many of
them were members of Parliament, and owed their commands to their seats.
In that case they carried on the party battle with one another in
presence of the enemy. Perhaps they did not actually betray one another,
but they believed one another to be capable of treason. The Tory officer
saw the Whig in a mess with a certain complacency, and the Whig was
pleased when baffling winds gave him an excuse for not coming to the
help of the Tory. As an inevitable consequence their fighting was apt to
be slack, and their recriminations furious. Personal quarrels were
carried to a pitch of rancour not to be rivalled out of a cloister.
Mathews was brutally insolent to Lestock, and Lestock hated Mathews with
the concentrated fury of Mr. Browning’s Spanish Monk. When one turns
over the pamphlets they wrote against one another, the picture of
Commodore Trunnion as he listened to the report that Admiral Bower was
to be made a British peer, rises at once. The mug, we remember, fell
from his hand, and shivered into a thousand fragments; his eye glistened
like that of a rattlesnake. Even so may Lestock have behaved when he
heard that his enemy Mathews was coming to command him. His pamphlets
were certainly written with the venom of a rattlesnake. Many years
later, when Rodney was himself a peer, and at the head of the
profession, he deliberately recorded on the margin of a copy of Clerk’s
_Tactics_ his belief that Lestock had betrayed his superior officer. The
judgment was too harsh, but it shows what an impression the factions in
the fleet had made on Rodney’s mind. When he was afterwards in command
he showed a distinct readiness to believe that some of his subordinates
were capable of the same conduct, and he resented their conduct
fiercely. It is premature to discuss his justice on this occasion, but,
no doubt, the memory of what he had seen in the Mediterranean was very
present with him in those days, exasperating his suspicions and
animating him to stamp the bad spirit out.



On his arrival in England Rodney’s post-rank was confirmed, and he was
appointed to the _Sheerness_. She was a much smaller ship than the
_Plymouth_, but a post-ship none the less--that is, a vessel large
enough to be commanded by a post-captain and not by a commander. Over
this intermediate rank, which every officer must now pass through on his
way from lieutenant to captain, Rodney appears to have skipped in the
free and easy way the time allowed to those who had luck or interest.
Interest Rodney certainly did not want. If his own words, written many
years later, are to be understood in their literal sense, it was the
best a man could then have--the interest of the Pelhams. In 1756 Rodney
declared in a letter to the famous electioneering Duke of Newcastle, the
“noodle” who would allow nobody to govern England without him, that he
owed all his preferment in the navy to His Grace. This statement was,
however, made in a private note, at a time when the writer was in lively
expectation of future electoral favours, and need not be taken as
rigidly accurate. It is at all events certain that Rodney did not want
for friends at Court, for he was in command of sea-going ships, mostly
on home stations, for the next ten years without a break. A man may use
interest in two ways. He can either get comfortable billets on shore, or
can avail himself of it to be put in the way of seeing service, and must
be judged by the use he makes of a good thing.

On the whole the use Rodney made of it was honourable. It is true that
he did not go to the East Indies, or to the Mediterranean, then the
scene of mere dull cruising, and not the model station as it became in
the Napoleonic wars. Neither did he go to the West Indies, which he was
to make the “station for honour” in future years. He stayed steadily at
home in the Channel doing such service as the nature of the war he was
engaged in permitted. This, it must be acknowledged, was for the most
part not brilliant. The war of Jenkins’ Ear, or of the Austrian
Succession, was the dullest we ever fought. At sea it was first and
foremost a privateer war. The navy was poorer in spirit than it ever had
or has been. Failures and courts-martial were numerous, and the
decisions of some of these last were so scandalous that Parliament was
driven into passing the drastic act which left the officers who tried
Byng no alternative but to condemn him to death for want of spirit. Part
of our sins was the fault of our enemies. They were never strong or
spirited enough to make us stretch ourselves. The Spaniard would never
fight unless his back was against a wall, and then to be sure, as we
found at Carthagena, he could make a desperate stand. Now and then a
Spanish liner would bear a tremendous amount of hammering before she
struck--witness the Glorioso, which kept a whole swarm of our warships
and privateers at work for days before they got her. But their fleets
were contemptible. Their courage and efficiency were of the passive
kind. The French fleet was at its lowest in strength if not in courage.
Cardinal Fleury had persistently neglected it, and France herself had
hardly begun to recover from the terrible exhaustion caused by the wars
of Louis the Fourteenth. Neither Spaniards nor Frenchmen could put our
fleets on their mettle, and so the natural tendency of a dull time was

From 1743 to 1747 Rodney was engaged on mainly routine duties in the
successive ships which he commanded--the _Sheerness_ of twenty guns, the
_Ludlow Castle_ of forty, the _Centurion_ of fifty, and the _Eagle_ of
sixty. He patrolled the North Sea in search of privateers, he protected
convoys, he took soldiers to and from the Low Countries. In the _Ludlow
Castle_ he took a large privateer from St. Malo. In the _Centurion_ he
helped to patrol the coast of Scotland during the Forty-Five on the
look-out for adventurers who might bring help to the Jacobites. When
bringing the _Centurion_ back from this service he had the ill-luck to
run on the Whiting Sand off Orfordness, and lose thirty feet of his
false keel and his rudder. The pilot was held very properly, no doubt,
to be responsible, and Rodney passed without loss of credit to the
command of the _Eagle_. The four years were useful to Rodney, no doubt;
they gave him experience in the handling of a ship, and they showed his
patrons that he was worth patronising. More need not, and indeed cannot,
be said about them.

In 1747 the lazy naval war flamed up for a moment--just before it was
ended by the uneasy truce called the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.
France made a resolute effort both to help its forces in the East
Indies, and to protect the return of its convoys from the West. England
pulled herself together, and decided to defeat this intention. Early in
spring two squadrons were despatched--a strong one under Anson, to look
for the French on their way to the East Indies, and a small one under
Commodore Fox, to look for the home-coming French West India convoy.
Both were successful. Fortune, which was never tired of rewarding Anson
for so magnificently supporting the honour of the English flag in the
bad times when Vernon was failing at Carthagena and Mathews was
wrangling with Lestock in the Mediterranean, threw the East India convoy
in his way. He captured ten of them--thereby earning his peerage and a
second sackful of prize-money. Rodney served in the subordinate squadron
under Fox. His ship the _Eagle_ was one of the six which this commodore
had under him. To them also fortune was kind. In June, about a month
after Anson’s victory, the English squadron fell in, off Cape Ortugal,
with the West India convoy of one hundred and seventy sail of merchant
ships, under the guard of four war-ships. Men-of-war and merchant ships
scattered at the sight of them. The King’s ships got off, but Fox’s
squadron had a day of easy and lucrative work in snapping up the
merchant runaways, whereof they took forty-eight of 16,051 tons in all.
As they were laden with West Indian produce, the day’s work must have
been better than a year’s pay to at least every captain in the squadron.

Here Rodney had seen how a convoy ought not to be protected. It was the
clear duty of the four French captains to fight so long as fighting was
possible, to cover the escape of the unarmed ships. Before the year was
out he had an opportunity of seeing how that duty could be fulfilled in
the most noble manner. During the summer the French were collecting in
the Basque Roads a great convoy of outward-bound merchant ships. The
English Government resolved to intercept this also, and in the autumn
Lord Anson, who was at the head of the Admiralty, selected the best
officer he could have found in the navy to replace himself. A squadron
of fourteen sail, with the _Eagle_ among them, was collected at
Plymouth, and placed under the command of Rear-Admiral Edward Hawke. In
August Admiral Hawke sailed with orders to attack the convoy in the
roadstead; but when he was on Lord Anson’s cruising ground, off
Finisterre, he came at daybreak on August 14th upon the French at sea
under the protection of nine ships of war. There was on the English side
a superiority of five ships and more than two hundred guns, but the
French commander, Desherbiers de l’Etenduère, decided to make a fight.
He had approached the English under the impression that they were a
portion of his own convoy, which had parted in the night. So soon as he
saw his mistake he did his best to correct it. The convoy was sent off
under the care of the _Content_, sixty-four. Then, having weakened
himself for the sake of his charge, M. de l’Etenduère made ready to
sacrifice himself for it also. He formed his remaining eight ships into
a line of battle across the road of the English squadron, and, keeping
vigilantly on his guard, edged away after his flying convoy.

At the sight of the French, Hawke had at first formed his line of
battle; but as the day wore on he saw the extent of his own
superiority, and saw also that the French, being to windward of him,
would be able to keep their distance till dark if he continued to
approach them in the regular formation, which would necessarily mean at
something a little below the speed of the slowest of his fourteen ships.
He therefore hauled down the signal for the line of battle, and ordered
a general chase, which is the technical name of the simplest of all
possible manœuvres--going, namely, at the enemy as fast as wind,
tide, and the sailing powers of your ship would allow you. Hawke was
fond of attacking in this fashion, and about eleven years after this day
did so, under heroic circumstances, at the magnificent sea-fight off
Quiberon. In the battle with L’Etenduère there was less to do, but such
as it was, it was gallantly done. The first to come up with the enemy
was Captain Arthur Scott of the _Lion_, who, at about midday, as it
were, seized hold of them, and clung to their skirts till help came. It
was not delayed. Other English ships swarmed up fast--the _Eagle_ among
them--each getting into action as she could, and all pressing on the
Frenchmen. Six of the eight struck, but not till after hard fighting,
prolonged in the case of two of them till seven in the evening. There
was no manœuvring; it was all plain hammer-and-tongs work, in which
the _Eagle_ had her full share. Early in the fight she came under the
guns of the _Tonnant_, the French flag-ship, an eighty-gunner, and was
badly mauled. Her steering-gear being disabled, she fell on board of
Hawke’s own ship the _Devonshire_, and the two drifted out of the fight
before they could get clear of one another. This stop was only
temporary. Hawke soon got back into action, and Rodney made good his
damage. When at last L’Etenduère, having done enough for honour,
prepared to escape with his own ship the _Tonnant_, and the only other
survivor of his squadron the _Intrepide_, Rodney joined Saunders of the
_Yarmouth_ (he who afterwards helped Wolfe to conquer Quebec) and Philip
Saumarez of the _Nottingham_ in pursuing the only remains of the enemy.
The _Eagle_ and the _Yarmouth_ were soon left behind. The _Nottingham_
alone came up with the retreating Frenchmen. In this stage of the fight
the odds had shifted to the other side. The _Tonnant_ was an eighty-gun
ship; the _Intrepide_ a seventy-four. Against two such enemies the sixty
guns of the _Nottingham_ were too few. Captain Saumarez indeed fought
till he fell mortally wounded; but the officer who succeeded him gave up
the unequal conflict, and at dark Hawke hoisted the signal of recall.
The _Tonnant_ and the _Intrepide_ made their way back to port.

It was a very pretty fight altogether, and on L’Etenduère’s part a most
gallant and able one. His bravery and his judgment were equally
conspicuous. Not only did he save his honour, but he saved his convoy.
During those seven hours of fighting the merchant ships had escaped to
windward. When dark came down Hawke, with six shattered French prizes on
his hands, and several of his own ships greatly damaged in hull and
rigging, had nothing for it but to make his way back to England. On our
side again, though it was not one of the fights we should rank with
Quiberon or the Nile, it was a creditable piece of service. Good use was
made of our superior numbers, and as the French ships were larger than
our own, and the calibre of the guns somewhat heavier, the odds in our
favour were not so great as they look on a mere statement of numbers and
broadsides. One unhappy feature of the naval war of the time was not
wanting. There was a court-martial on Captain Fox of the
_Kent_--Rodney’s commodore in the cruise of the previous June--who was
accused of hanging back in the action. The charge was largely supported
by Rodney’s own evidence, and was held to be proved. Fox was dismissed
the service, and though afterwards restored by the King, was not again
employed. Rodney was thought to have borne somewhat hardly on the poor
man, being aggrieved by want of support when he felt he needed it in the
action. As we get more means of seeing Rodney’s character it will, I
think, become very credible that he would be especially harsh in his
condemnation of want of zeal when he had himself suffered from it. That
Fox had not behaved so well in the action as Rodney, Saunders, Saumarez,
or Scott is beyond question. It is also certain that the naval
courts-martial of that time were not, as a rule, remarkable for the
severity of their sentences, and we may rest content that substantial
justice was done.

The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle did not turn Rodney on shore. His interest
was good enough to save him from the too common fate of naval officers
in the days when the reduction of the establishment from a war to a
peace footing was carried out with but little regard to the claims of
those who could not make their voice heard loudly at Whitehall.
Moreover, he was now known as one who was well able to fulfil his side
of the bargain which is generally made, at least tacitly, between patron
and client. He was an officer whom it was a credit to push. When he
happened to be in London, just after the action with L’Etenduère, Anson
took him to the King. George the Second expressed his surprise at
Captain Rodney’s youth, which, by the way, would imply that His
Majesty’s acquaintance with his own post list was not exhaustive, for it
certainly contained several younger officers than the commander of the
_Eagle_. Then Anson, so says the story, replied by expressing a wish
that His Majesty’s Navy contained more young captains of the stamp of
Captain Rodney. This was high praise indeed from Anson, who was never
lavish of praise, and was indeed so cold that Smollett accused him of
raying out frost on all who came near him. The words of a First Lord,
and one who had a particular care in pushing on men whom he thought
worthy of promotion, were not likely to fall to the ground. In March,
1749, Rodney was appointed Governor of Newfoundland, and at the same
time Captain of H.M.S. _Rainbow_.

This was not a cumulation of offices. The governorship of Newfoundland
was then a naval post. We considered the place as a fishing-station, and
indeed it was little else. The fishermen and the fisheries were directly
under “Admirals of the Fisheries,” resident officers from whom there lay
an appeal to the officers of H.M. ships on the coast. Other settlers
were under justices, who however had no jurisdiction over the
fisher-folk. At the head of all was the chief naval officer on the
station. So completely were the Fisheries considered as the colony that
the Governor only stayed there during the season to protect them. For
the rest of the year he was doing convoy work, out and home, or was
lying in the Longreach. He had a regular round specified to him with
much precision by My Lords. In spring he was to drop down to the Downs
with his own ship and any others put under his command. From thence he
was to proceed down Channel looking in at Pool, Weymouth, Topsham,
Plymouth, and Falmouth. Sailing from this port he was to make the best
of his way to the Banks of Newfoundland with the Fishing Fleet, “And in
regard it has been represented to us that pirate ships did formerly lurk
about the Banks of Newfoundland and infest the ships fishing on that
coast, you are never to make any unnecessary stay in port, nor suffer
the _Boston_ (she was another vessel under his command) to do so, but
keep diligently cruising at sea, and so employ both ships as may most
effectually keep the pirates from those parts and protect the trade and
His Majesty’s subjects.” Here follow many instructions as to his duties
in those parts touching the assistance to be given to the Fishery
Admirals in keeping order, the care to be shown in excluding foreign
interlopers, and the vigilance to be exercised in preventing the
desertion of English sailors. It was not intended that the Fishery Fleet
should limit the supply of men for His Majesty’s Navy by carrying
emigrants to New England. Therefore Captain Rodney was to see that all
ships brought back the complement they took out “except in case of
death,” when some reasonable latitude would be allowed. On October 1st
Rodney was to collect his charge, now fully laden with stock-fish for
the Peninsula and the Mediterranean, and was to convoy them to Cadiz,
whence after a stay of not more than ten or twelve days he was to see
them and such other merchant ships as put themselves under his
protection to their respective parts “as high as Livorno.” After a stay
of not more than twenty days he was to return by Barcelona, Majorca,
Minorca, Alicante, and Cadiz. From thence, after another delay limited
to twelve days, he was to make his way, providing for the Lisbon and
Oporto trade in person or by deputy, to the Downs, “giving us an account
by all opportunities of your proceedings.” From the Downs he would come
up to the Thames, and there remain, unless ordered to convoy His Majesty
from Harwich, till such time as he had to sail for the Banks again.

This routine is worth recording for the illustration it affords of the
conditions under which trade was formerly carried on, and the contrast
it presents to the freedom and safety of the seas in our times. It was
also distinctly service, and Rodney, who served his apprenticeship in it
under Medley, must have known what work there was in it before taking
the billet. He did not therefore use his influence to shirk work. For
the rest the post was a good one--an all-round cruise and a winter in
England being much to be preferred to three consecutive years of a
foreign station. At a later period the experience must have been
invaluable to Rodney. When nearly twenty years later he sailed to
relieve Gibraltar, he must have found the value of the practice he had
had in taking convoys in and out of the Mediterranean.

In 1751 the regular round was relieved for him by a little piece of
surveying service. The Trinity House had in that year before them Mr.
William Otton and one Peter Ham his mate, sent by the Admiralty with a
circumstantial story of discovery. It was to the effect that on March
4th, 1749, these two mariners in their bark the _St. Paul_ did discover
an island in Latitude 49° 40´ N. and Longitude 24° 30´ west of the
Lizard. They saw it clearly, and were prepared to swear that it was six
or seven leagues long, lying S.S.E. and N.N.W., with a little flat
island at the east point of it. Also they swore that there was a great
surf, and that one point of the island was as high as Dunnose. On
cross-examination it appeared that Mr. Otton and Peter Ham did not cast
the lead. The Trinity House did not much believe these mariners who came
from a far country, but it thought the matter might be looked into, and
so the Admiralty instructed the commander of the Newfoundland convoy, on
whose route the supposed island lay, to look into it. Rodney did, and
had to report that the alleged island was not there--being either an
invention of Mr. Otton and Peter Ham of the _St. Paul_, or some Cape
Flyaway seen in a haze, which had solidified in their imaginations
between 1749 and 1751. Marryat was sent into the Atlantic on a similar
wild goose chase long afterwards, which facts show how long it was
before the ocean was so thoroughly surveyed as to make it appear
impossible that an undiscovered island should lie between Cape
Finisterre and Cape Race on the very track of the American trade.

At all times during this commission there was a possibility that Rodney
might have more serious work to do than the protecting fishermen from
lurking pirates, or assisting Fishery Admirals. The peace with France
never really extended either to America or India. In both there was
incessant underhand hostility, flaming now and then into actual
fighting. On the North American continent, all along the frontier of
New England and Nova Scotia, there was almost avowed war from the
first. Newfoundland was then to us a kind of outpost against the French
in Canada, and it was part of Rodney’s duty to keep an eye on their
agents, who were everywhere pushing, intriguing, insulting, in the style
which provoked the great storm of the Seven Years’ War. When Rodney
first took command of the Newfoundland station he was warned by Sandwich
to be on the outlook for the French aggression, which His Majesty’s
Ministers already expected on the very day after signing the Peace. The
letter is worded honourably for Rodney. Sandwich speaks of him as one
who can be trusted to act with judgment, and does not need precise
instructions. His reputation must therefore have been well established
at headquarters as a capable officer. The warning was not unnecessary,
for in 1751 Rodney had to despatch Captain Francis William Drake (the
brother of the Samuel Francis Drake who was to lead his van on the yet
distant April 12th, 1782--Drakes both of them of the blood of the
Elizabethan) to look into the proceedings of a French schooner reported
to have turned up at Trepassey Bay just below Cape Race. She “was
mounted with 14 carriage-guns besides a number of swivels. Man’d with
upwards of fifty men ‘she’ had put into that port, and erected tents on
shore, carrying with them a number of muskets, cuttlasses, and
ammunition, giving no other account of themselves than that they were
come to survey that part of the island, as likewise the harbour of
Trepassey, to know whether their draughts in that respect were correct;
the said schooner carrying a light in the night as if she expected other

The storm did not break in Rodney’s time, however. Mysterious French
schooners turned up with carriaged-guns and swivels, showing menacing
lights, but they vanished away again. French agents came and went on the
border, intriguing, vapouring, now and then murdering, maintaining
French influence in the usual way, till the measure was full, and they
were swept for ever from the country they could neither use themselves
nor would let others till in peace. Strange it is, and a poor proof of
our wisdom, that they still retain those fishing rights on the coast of
Newfoundland which it was part of Rodney’s duty to see that they did not

The remnants--stained and tattered--of a letter-book kept by Rodney
during his command of the _Rainbow_, and still preserved by his
descendants, show him at work doing his duty as naval officer in peace
very much as his successors do to-day. He has to report on Dr. Knight’s
“Magnetic bars,” and to test a quick-firing brass gun, as we test and
experiment now. Touches here and there show that the Admiralty
administration was not of the best--complaints, for instance, that the
men’s clothes are worn out, so much so as to leave them in absolute need
of cover from the weather. Again, the food was but poor, to judge by the
frequent orders for survey, and by the condemnation of beef, bread, and
beer (for it was not till long after that rum became the standard drink
of the navy) which followed the surveys. Sailors of both services, naval
and merchant, will grumble at their food on small provocation, and
condemn it on trifling evidence; but one does not gather that Rodney was
too easily disposed to allow this weakness its way. The _Rainbow’s_
stores, when condemned as bad, were bad, we may be sure. He appears at
all times to have been careful of the health of his men, knowing that
their efficiency depended on it, being moreover naturally a gentleman,
and therefore anxious that the humbler folk dependent on him should be
comfortable according to the modest standard of their place.

It is a little detail not without interest that Rodney must have worn
his first uniform on this commission. Though we had had a regular corps
of naval officers since the beginning of the reign of Charles the
Second, when the first list was formed by James, then Duke of York
(whose merits as an administrator have never had full justice done
them), no uniform was ordered till 1749. Officers dressed as they
pleased, with a preference for red for show, and for gray, the colour of
the slops served to the men, for work. Gradually this omission became a
grievance to the naval mind. The officers considered it as in some sort
putting them below the soldiers, though they were, as their successors
are, very conscious that the navy is the senior service. At last some of
them petitioned for a uniform, and were told to choose. They asked for a
blue uniform with red facings, or a red uniform with blue facings. It
was for one fateful moment doubtful whether the “blue jacket” was to
come into existence or not. Happily while it was yet time George the
Second met the Duchess of Bedford in the Park wearing a riding habit of
blue with _white_ facings. It charmed him, and he gave the colour and
the facings to the navy, which was not the least wise thing George the
Second did in his time--the old navy uniform, the blue coat relieved
with white and gold, the white knee-breeches and stockings, was one of
the most becoming ever worn. At first apparently, though there is a
doubt, only captains and flag-officers were required to wear it. There
is a legend to the effect that when lieutenants were similarly honoured,
one uniform was kept in the ward-room, and worn by the officers in turn
when they were summoned on board the flag-ship, or sent ashore on duty.
Masters had no uniform, and on the Mediterranean station they bought the
cast-off red coats of the soldier officers at Gibraltar--trimming them
with black. Rum and the blue jacket, which have become inseparable from
our notions of the old navy, are both, it will be seen, very modern.

The _Rainbow_ was paid off at Woolwich in 1752. Rodney himself landed at
Portsmouth, leaving the vessel to be brought round to the river by his
First Lieutenant Du Bois. He had to hand her over to his subordinate on
the ground of ill health, being, as he pleaded to the Admiralty, very
ill and in charge of a physician. Ill health was destined to be only too
common with him for the rest of a long life, and he was probably already
suffering from the disease of the century--the gout, which in later
years first crippled and then killed him.



After twenty-two years of unbroken sea service Rodney was well entitled
to an easy billet on shore, or in a harbour ship. Besides, he now
established a kind of moral claim to a stationary post, for in 1753 he
married. The rank of the lady shows that he had a better social position
than the very great majority of contemporary naval officers. They were
largely sons of other officers or middle-class people, and they lived
among themselves in the ports, marrying and giving in marriage in their
own class. Rodney, who had some of the best blood in England in his
veins, lived when ashore in the great society of London. His wife was
chosen in this, and not in the naval world. She was a daughter of Mr.
Charles Compton, brother of the sixth, and father of the seventh, Earl
of Northampton. In Rodney’s life she is little more than a name. No
letter to her or from her has come in my way--partly, no doubt, because
the evidence about the Admiral’s life only becomes abundant in his later
years when she was dead, when he had remarried and begotten a second
family. All that can be said about her may be summed up in a few words.
Her name was Jane; she married Rodney in 1753, and died in 1757, having
borne him two sons and a daughter. The elder of the two sons, afterwards
an officer in the Guards, was the ancestor of the present Lords Rodney.
The younger went to sea, and was drowned in the wreck of his sloop, the
_Ferret_. The daughter died in childhood.

In 1751, too, Rodney had entered Parliament as member for Saltash, which
means that he was put into the seat by a patron. It was the first of
five seats which he held, with an interval of exclusion from the House
between the fourth and last, until he was made a peer in 1782. His
Parliamentary adventures will, however, be more conveniently taken
farther on.

With a wife and a seat in Parliament Rodney would have no present wish
to go to sea, nor would his political patron wish him to be too much
away. It was convenient to have him at hand if a critical division was
expected. A guardship at Portsmouth would meet the case exactly, and
accordingly he was appointed in 1753 to the _Kent_, sixty-four. Very
soon, in the next year in fact, this vessel was commissioned for service
in the East Indies, and then Rodney was moved into the _Fougueux_; and
when she also was commissioned, he moved in 1755 yet again to the
_Prince George_, still on guardship duty. In the earlier part of this
time there was little beyond routine to attend to, but in the last-named
year began the preparations for the Seven Years’ War. We were
strengthening our hands in the East Indies, and Boscawen’s fleet was
being got ready for that attack on the French-American fishing fleet
which was our not formal, but effective, declaration of hostilities.
Under these circumstances it was necessary to raise men for the fleet,
and no small part of that duty fell to the captains of the guardships.

The men were procured in two ways--by persuasion and by force. A bounty
was offered for seamen; landsmen, of whom a good proportion was carried
in every ship, were not then entitled to this advantage. When free
enlistment failed to supply sufficient crews, and it always did in war,
recourse was had to the press. Even if there had been a reasonable
security that enough men would ultimately come in, some quicker process
than the volunteer one was needed. The quicker process was compulsion,
pure and simple. As the press-gang, though a familiar name enough, is
but vaguely known in these days, some little account of Rodney’s share
in the working of it may not come amiss. There is no reason to suppose
that his activity differed from that of others in nature or degree, but
yet some sketch of it will help us to realise the surroundings in which
he worked. The letter book, already quoted, supplies some characteristic

His volunteers having first been secured, the captain of the _Prince
George_ selects from them and from the sailors who habitually enlisted
in the navy, of whom there was always a backbone in the service, certain
trusty gangs which he puts under active officers. One of these, a
Lieutenant Allon, was sent to London to set up a _rendezvous_, under the
direction of the registering captain, probably in the neighbourhood of
Limehouse or Wapping. From this centre of activity the lieutenant went
to work, recruiting men freely when he could, or laying hands on them in
the fashion described in _Roderick Random_. Lieutenant Allon’s requests
for more “imprest” money were frequent, and were regularly answered
with remittances. When he had secured a haul of men he sent them round
by tenders to Portsmouth. It is curious to reflect that Lieutenant Allon
and, through him, Rodney helped to secure Captain Cook for the navy. The
navigator enlisted at this very time in order to escape the “hot press”
on the river, deciding, like the long-headed Yorkshireman he was, that
he had better go quietly, get the bounty, and likewise secure a chance
of promotion, than be seized as pressed man, for whom there would be no
bounty and no chance. So it will be seen the press-gang worked
indirectly as well as directly. In the meantime other gangs were at work
in the fashion indicated by this little order, which is addressed on
February 14th, 1755, to Lieutenant Richard Bickorton.

     You are hereby required and directed to proceed on board the
     _Frederick and William_ tender, taking with you forty men from His
     Majesty’s ship under my command, and immediately proceed to the
     eastward of the Isle of Wight, and cruise for the space of eight
     days between that island and Beachy Head, using your best
     endeavours to impress or otherwise procure all such seamen as you
     possibly can for His Majesty’s service. At the expiration of eight
     days you are to return to Spithead for further orders. Given under
     my hand February 14th.

G. B. R.

Lieutenant Bickorton was one of many officers in command of the tenders
then swarming in the Channel, waiting all of them for the homeward-bound
merchant ships and their crews, which were returning in ignorance of
what was waiting for them. One can imagine the feelings of the merchant
sailors when they were stopped in sight of shore, and carried off to
serve King George for nobody knew how long, without as much as an hour
given them to put a foot on dry land. A letter written by Rodney in June
of this year to Sir Edward Hawke, now commanding at Portsmouth, will
show what one crew thought of it all.

     Sir--Lieutenant Robert Sax of His Majesty’s ship under my command,
     who was sent on board the _Princess Augusta_ tender in order to
     procure seamen for His Majesty’s service, is returned this morning
     with fifteen men which he pressed out of the _Britannia_, a ship
     from Leghorn bound for London. He acquaints me he fell in with the
     said ship at 5 o’clock in the morning on June 1st off Portland, and
     ordered them to bring to. The master desired he would defer
     pressing the men till they got out of the Race of Portland--to
     which desire of the master’s Mr. Sax acquiesced; but observing
     after they got out of the Race of Portland the ship continued to
     crowd all the sail she possibly could set, Mr. Sax fired a shot
     athwart her, and ordered them to bring to again, upon which the
     master of the _Britannia_ hailed the tender and acquainted the
     Lieutenant that his men refused to obey his commands, and desired
     the said Lieutenant would board him. Mr. Sax after acquainting the
     men several times the Channel was full of tenders, and that it was
     not possible for them to escape being pressed, and could not
     prevail upon them to submit, they answered with three cheers, and
     fired a shot at him, on which Mr. Sax boarded them with the tender;
     but [I] am sorry to acquaint you three men on board the said ship
     was killed in boarding, tho’ Mr. Sax assures me he gave positive
     orders to his men not to fire. The ship is now come into Spithead,
     and I shall take particular just care to send a sufficient number
     of good and able men to navigate her to London. I should be glad to
     receive your directions how I am to proceed in this affair, and
     what is to be done with the men that was killed, as I find they are
     still on board.

Rodney’s composition was hasty, or his clerk’s copying was careless, as
we may see from the two sentences jumbled into one in the middle of his
letter (“the men that was” is quite good grammar of the time), but the
meaning is clear enough. Composition and meaning are alike luminous in
Hawke’s answer.

By Sir Edward Hawke, Knight of the Bath, Vice-Admiral
of the White Squadron, and Commander of His
Majesty’s ships and vessels at Spithead and Portsmouth

     You are hereby required and directed to cause the utmost despatch
     to be used by the surgeons to whom the accompanying order is
     directed in finishing their examination of the wounds of the three
     men killed the 1st inst. on board the _Britannia_ merchant ship.
     Then you are without a moment’s loss of time to put on board her
     men sufficient in number and quality to navigate her in safety to
     her moorings in the river Thames, directing them as soon as they
     get without St. Helen’s to throw the dead bodies overboard. For
     which this shall be your order.

     Given under my hand on board His Majesty’s ship _St. George_ at
     Spithead, this June 2nd 1755.


This brief official letter, and the laconic order which is its answer,
bring before one, all the more effectively because of their
business-like calm, the most cruel phase of the press-gang. It was
necessary, no doubt, that men should be found for the defence of the
country, and at all times in all nations the State has compelled the
service of its subjects. At this time the French had (as they still
have) an _inscription maritime_, which spares no part of the maritime
population; and nobody needs to be told in these days that the
obligation to render military service is universal in nearly all the
nations of the old world. But a conscription works on a definite system.
The burden it imposes is known, foreseen, and adjusted with some
approach to equality and justice. The press-gang was utterly erratic. It
was, in fact, a survival of the prerogative by which Edward the Third
could order the Lords Marchers to bring up just as many Welshmen as he
wanted for his French wars. Time and the growth of the “freedom of the
subject” had limited the incidence of the prerogative (if the expression
is permissible) to the levies for the sea service, but in that
restricted though still considerable field it worked as it had done in
the fourteenth century. Men were seized wherever they could be found,
with little or no regard to aught save the convenience of the service.
As a matter of course, the easiest thing to do was to wait for the
home-coming merchant ships, and take the men out of them close to port.
This could be done without stopping the trade, and so raising a clamour
among the merchants who possessed a vote. Moreover, it saved the
press-gangs an immense amount of trouble in hunting for men in the back
streets of towns and on the high roads. For the sailors seized in this
fashion at the end of a long sea voyage it was a cruel fate, and one’s
heart is sore for the three poor fellows who only came back to the sight
of Portland Bill to die by the hands of their own countrymen.

The tone of the letters, too, is not unworthy of notice. There is no
anger in Rodney’s mind with the sailors of the _Britannia_ for
resisting. That was “the game”; and if he feels aught, it is annoyance
that Sax’s men disobeyed orders, and regret that three stout sailors,
who might have been used in the _Prince George’s_ tops and batteries,
should be lying stiff and stark on the merchant ship’s deck, waiting to
be thrown to the fishes off St. Helen’s. Noteworthy, too, is Sir Edward
Hawke’s summary decision that there shall be no coroner’s inquest to
start unpleasant inquiries. There shall be no bodies for the jury to sit
on. Such were the freedom of the seafaring subject and the sanctity of
the law as understood by post-captains and vice-admirals of the blue,
white, and red squadrons in 1755 and for long afterwards. No wonder that
desertions were incessant, or that in this year Rodney has to receive on
board the _Prince George_ a company of “Colonel Bockland’s regiment of
foot” to stand sentry over his pressed men. Haslar Hospital was a common
“take off” for desertions. It was full in those times when complaints
were common from every ship in the Channel that there are not slops
enough, so that the men are naked, and in want of every necessary; that
the beef is bad, the beer sour, the cheese and butter “stinking rotten.”
From it the men ran in such numbers that the leakage threatened to
counterbalance the inflow due to the press. On the top of the press
warrants came orders to Lieutenant This and Mr. That, midshipman, to
take so many trusty men, and with them keep watch and ward round Haslar
to shut in the convalescent men who might try to make a run for the free
air of the South Down. One touch more and we can be done with the
press-gang. When in the following year Rodney had been transferred to
the _Monarch_, seventy-four, and was lying at Plymouth, he reports in an
official letter that many sailors use the high road by Wendover in going
from port to port. He suggests the despatch of a lieutenant and a dozen
trusty men to set up a _rendezvous_ on the road, and catch the seamen in
transit. The merchant sailor was hunted like the flying-fish. Clearly
Rodney was a zealous officer, and whether he liked this kidnapping work
or not he did it without shrinking. Probably he neither liked nor
disliked it, but just did it as a matter of course. As for the men, they
too took it as part of the incurable nature of things. They might give
three cheers, and fire a gun, or knock the press sailors down, or desert
if they could, but once in the mess, after a reasonable amount of
cursing and storming they settled down. The fund of loyalty in the
country was immense. They laid the blame of the misfortune on the
French, and prepared to take it out of the hereditary enemy. The country
in the meantime clung to the press out of the abundance of its love for
the freedom of the subject. A proposal to replace it by a registration
of seamen, made in Walpole’s time, was rejected indignantly because of
the increased power it would give the administration. In a muddle-headed
way the country was right, given the point of view. It was better to
tolerate the survival of an old and now limited prerogative as an evil
necessity than to give Government power to register men and call them
out in classes. That would have been a recognition of a principle and a
serious concession.

In 1755 Rodney was transferred from the _Prince George_ to the
_Monarch_, and from Portsmouth to Plymouth. During the first half of the
next year he was in this latter ship and port, engaged in much the same
work as before. Fighting had begun not only in America, but in the
Mediterranean, to which Byng sailed this year on his disastrous
expedition to Minorca, but there was no formal declaration of war till
May, 1756. At Plymouth, Rodney came across an illustration of the
barbarity of the time not inferior to the press-gang, which also he
doubtless accepted as a matter of course. We had stopped a French
emigrant vessel, apparently before the declaration, bound to Louisiana
with Alsatian emigrants. Louisiana meant then the valley of the
Mississippi, and as much to right or left of it as the French could
seize. It would never do to allow them to increase their number if it
could be prevented. There was no peace beyond the line--to the west that
is of the line drawn from north to south, three hundred and seventy
leagues to the west of the Cape de Verd Islands. So, though we were
nominally at peace with France, the emigrants were stopped in the
Channel by a kind of application, I take it, of the _Cyprès_ doctrine.
Among them were some twenty women and children, whom Rodney was ordered
to send over to Ostend in a tender. The poor creatures petitioned to be
allowed to remain with their husbands, promising to share the
subsistence allowed the men by the French King. What answer was given I
do not know, but it is characteristic of the slovenly inhumanity of the
day that we should, after stopping these poor people, have calmly
proposed to separate the wives from their husbands, and send them to beg
or starve at Ostend--and have done that too, as was no doubt the case,
under the impression that it was the good-natured thing to do. The
British official man of the middle of the eighteenth century was above
all things a very great ass. He was not so corrupt as he has been
called; he could work very hard, was conscious of the duty he owed his
king and country. Nobody, I think, can look at the evidence and doubt
that he tried his best, but it was absurdly bad, for being an ass what
could he do but administer in an asinine manner?

It is worth while to insist a little on this, because, unless you know
the element in which a man swam, it is impossible to estimate his
swimming. In 1755 that element was for naval officers one of official
incoherence and incompetence. Contradictory orders with their inevitable
consequences, which are omissions, and confusion, abounded. Men and
officers were drafted from ship to ship according to what Nelson called
“the infernal system” which prevailed too long in our navy. There seemed
to be no plan at headquarters, or, what is even worse, several plans at
once. To take a comparatively small detail as illustrating the working
of the Navy Board. When in July the _Monarch_ was ordered to sea to join
Boscawen, now cruising in the Channel, Rodney is found at the very last
moment applying for a third surgeon who had been promised to him, but
had not turned up. He did not come, but in place of him a consoling
letter from the senior officer at Plymouth informing Rodney that the
_Monarch_ would be better without him, for he had turned out on inquiry
to be entirely ignorant of a surgeon’s business, and only seventeen
years old. With that instance of official management we may leave the
subject. That we pulled through it all is entirely due to the one
redeeming merit our administration had. It did leave a very large share
of power to the admirals and captains. When they were of the right
stamp--admirals such as Hawke and Boscawen, captains of the order of
Rodney and Hood, or the less famous Lockhart and Gilchrist, who were
engaged in this and the following wars in snapping up the French
cruisers and privateers as fast as they showed a bowsprit in the
Channel--order and efficiency were soon evoked out of chaos. Of course
when the commander was of the wrong stamp--when he was a Byng, who
looked upon official mismanagement, not as a thing to be made good, but
as mere matter of complaint and excuse for doing nothing, the result was
very different. The fate which overtook Byng convinced every officer,
however, that it was safer as well as more honourable to follow the
example of Hawke and Boscawen. The naval officers and the great kindred
spirit of Pitt, the master of them all, saved the country in spite of
officialdom by sheer dint of playing the man.

In the July of 1756 the _Monarch_ joined Boscawen in Channel soundings
for a short time. She had only been with him a few days when the
carpenter, “a very good man,” who had been warned to present no
frivolous complaints, had to report that the “knee of the head” was
loose, and worked so much as to cause the ship to leak dangerously.
There was nothing for it but to apply to the Admiral for a survey. The
result of the report of the surveyors was an order to the _Monarch_ to
return to Portsmouth to refit. Rodney spent the remainder of the year
and the beginning of the next in the dockyard. He contrived to get some
good out of the evil state of the _Monarch_ by inducing the dockyard
authorities to alter the internal arrangement of the ship, which was a
French prize, and had her magazines in the wrong place. Whatever good
the alteration may have done the _Monarch_, the advantage of it was
reaped by another captain. About the end of February Rodney was
transferred to the _Dublin_, which makes the fifth ship he had commanded
in four years. One wonders how any kind of discipline and good spirit
was maintained in the midst of these incessant changes.

Almost the last order given him on board the _Monarch_ was one by
Admiral Thomas Smith, “Tom of Ten Thousand,” directing him to receive on
board, as “supernumeraries for their victuals only,” Rear-Admiral Byng
and his retinue. It is dated February 6th, 1757. On the 17th of the next
month poor Byng, having now no need to think and act, but only to
undergo his fate, faced the firing-party on the _Monarch’s_ quarter-deck
like a gentleman, without fear and without ostentation. Rodney had no
share, direct or indirect, in the trial or execution of the Admiral, but
I have come to a very mistaken estimate of his character if he
disapproved it. No man had less of the querulous spirit, which was
Byng’s ruin, or less toleration for such half-hearted leadership as was
shown in the fight off Minorca. If he ever saw, as he probably did,
Voltaire’s famous jest, he replied, no doubt, that the execution did
“encourage the others.” It set up a terrible warning to those who might
in future feel inclined to think that if they were badly treated by the
Admiralty they were therefore to be excused for not doing their best
against the enemy.

Rodney’s new ship the _Dublin_ lay at Deptford, and he was now to begin
all over again the weary work of fitting for sea. According to the
wholesome custom of the navy he was allowed to bring with him a few
chosen officers and men to form the heart of a new crew. From April to
August then we will suppose him at work as before, setting up a
_rendezvous_, superintending the rigging of his new ship, dunning the
Admiralty for slops to clothe his naked men, and food not “stinking
rotten” for them to eat. Since the little picturesque touch is always
welcome, we will note that he applies among other things to the
Admiralty for a cook’s warrant for “Charles O’Raaf,” hardly an
Englishman we should think, who had lost his arm in an action with the
French in 1747. In September he had at last got his ship into shape and
joined Hawke, now back from the Mediterranean, whither he had gone to
supersede Byng, and preparing for the first of those combined attacks on
the coast of France which were the least successful of the Great
Commoner’s enterprises.

The history of the attack on Rochefort, which was made in September, may
be quite fairly given in the words of Captain Marryat. “The army thought
that the navy might have beaten down stone ramparts, ten feet thick; and
the navy wondered why the army had not walked up the same ramparts which
were thirty feet perpendicular.” Sir Edward Hawke, who commanded the
fleet, was as capable an officer as ever hoisted his flag--and Wolfe was
with the troops. The two, if they had been at liberty to act together,
might have effected something, but unfortunately Wolfe was still only
Lieutenant-Colonel in Kingsley’s regiment. The General in command, Sir
John Mordaunt, was old and by no means competent. His personal bravery
was nearly the only soldierly quality he had, and though he did not fear
death he stood in terror of responsibility. With such a leader an
expedition which required dashing management was sure to fail, and fail
it did. Whatever credit was gained fell to Howe in the _Magnanime_, and
then the squadron and the troops came back with very little glory, but
with ample materials for a court of inquiry and a pamphleteering war.
Rodney took no part in this last, and had no conspicuous share in the
previous operations. The _Dublin_ was in truth a wretched ship.
Immediately after joining the squadrons he lost company because her
rudder had got out of order. Soon, too, Rodney had to represent to the
Admiral that a hundred and fifty of his men were down with an epidemic
fever, while many others were so weak as to be unfit for work. To make
good the defects of his vessel, and to recruit his crew, he was ordered
back to Spithead.

In May of 1758 he sailed on a much more satisfactory piece of service.
The _Dublin_ was ordered to join Boscawen in the attack on Louisburg in
Cape Breton. She was sent in place of the _Invincible_, which had just
been lost. After experiencing repeated delays, and a long struggle with
the difficulty of manning his ship--to make his complement up at all it
was found necessary to enlist “neutral” prisoners who volunteered--he
got off at last with a convoy. General Amherst and his staff sailed in
the _Dublin_, which was in fact crowded with soldiers and stores.

The siege and capture of Louisburg marked the turning of the tide for us
in the Seven Years’ War. It was the first completely successful thing we
did. It gave us the command of the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and was a
decisive step towards the final conquest of Canada. Navy and army,
Boscawen and Amherst, worked admirably together, and Wolfe, who was here
also, had some opportunity to show his great qualities as a leader. It
would be pleasing to his biographer to be able to say that Rodney had a
conspicuous share in the victory; but the truth is that during the
greater part of the actual fighting the _Dublin_ was at Halifax. She
maintained her character as an unhealthy ship, and was hardly on the
North American coast before the epidemic fever broke out again. Boscawen
kept her mostly at Halifax, where Rodney had to discharge the very
important but somewhat thankless duties of officer in command at the
basis of operations. What part of his attention could be spared from
forwarding transports was devoted to looking after the health of his
men. The hospitals of Halifax were full of sickly sailors or soldiers,
and the _Dublin’s_ men had to be attended to in sheds run up on shore by
the ship’s carpenter. Rodney rejoined Boscawen outside Louisburg just
before it surrendered in July, and then sailed for Europe on August 15th
with the convoy which carried the French prisoners of war. The room
which had been taken up on board the _Dublin_ on her way out by Amherst
and his staff, was occupied on the way home by the officers of the eight
French ships which were captured in the harbour. It is a not
uninteresting detail that Rodney also took home a present of dried fish
and Madeira from Wolfe to his family. One would like to know that the
men were friends as they were certainly acquaintances.

The choice of the _Dublin_ to attend the convoy was not only due to the
fact that she was the kind of vessel an admiral would be naturally
anxious to get rid of. Rodney was now a very senior captain, and would
as a matter almost of course be selected for independent service for
which a flag-officer could not be spared. He was now almost at the very
end of his service as post-captain. When he had brought his convoy into
the Channel and had sent it into Plymouth he proceeded to Spithead
himself, and there applied for leave to attend to his health. A year
spent on board a very ill-ventilated vessel reeking with fever had been
too much for him. The leave was granted, and there ended Rodney’s work
as a post-captain. In May of 1759 he was promoted rear-admiral.



When Rodney became a rear-admiral he had already been in Parliament for
eight years. No word good or bad need be said of his career as a member
in the House, for it had necessarily been, and was to continue to be,
insignificant. The truth is that he valued his seat for social and
professional reasons. It has always been a pleasant thing for a
gentleman to be a member of the House, and at that time the best club in
England was particularly agreeable. The work demanded was as much as you
chose to do, and the privileges were many. For a naval or military
officer a seat was especially valuable. When Rodney was on his way from
the relief of Gibraltar to his third command in the West Indies in 1779,
he wrote to his second wife a letter, in which he said that no man could
hope to hold a satisfactory position in the navy unless he had a seat in
Parliament. His meaning is easy to understand. A naval officer who was
also a member had in the first place a much better chance of obtaining a
command than another, and in the second, was much more likely to be well
backed up when he was in it. The possession of a vote which might be
used to support or annoy a minister would give him an independent
position, or at least a claim. Moreover, his mouth could not be shut.
The calculation was a convincing one, and therefore His Majesty’s sea
officers went into the House as much as they could. Indeed, the number
of admirals and captains who were members of Parliament in the early and
middle eighteenth century was large. The Treasury and Admiralty made a
similar calculation for their part. If it was convenient for a naval
officer to have a seat, it was equally useful to ministers that many
members should belong to a body of gentlemen who might be soothed by the
prospect of command, or kept in order by fear of the loss of place.
Naval officers were therefore commonly chosen as Treasury candidates
(_i.e._ nominees) for dockyard seats, or for the pocket boroughs in the
west. So there was between ministers and naval officers not a little of
that mutually advantageous give-and-take by which His Majesty’s
Government was so largely carried on in the last century.

Rodney, with the sagacity of a practical man, had early seen the
advantage of obtaining a seat in Parliament, to say nothing of the fact
that as a gentleman of good connections he would naturally wish to be in
the House if possible. For one who, like himself, could not cultivate
popularity there were three ways in which his useful seat might be
obtained. An officer might belong to a great family with plenty of
“influence” of its own. This--the best--was Boscawen’s position. “Old
Dreadnaught,” as the sailors called him, had largely to thank the fact
that he was Lord Falmouth’s brother and M.P. for Truro for the commands
which enabled him to destroy M. de la Clue at Lagos, and to help in the
taking of Louisburg. Another way was to inherit or make money enough to
“cultivate an interest,” as the process was politely called, in some
properly constituted borough. The third way was to attach yourself to a
patron and follow him. It was the tamer eighteenth-century equivalent of
the alliance recorded in the _Fair Maid of Perth_ which bound the stout
Laird of Wamphray to ride with the redoubted Lord of Johnstone, who
again was banded with the doughty Earl of Douglas. In the meantime the
Devil’s Deck of Hellgarth was employed in looking after the borough.

Not having family influence or private fortune enough, or of the right
kind in the right place, and being withal resolute to get on in this
world by all means permissible to a gentleman, Rodney had nothing for it
but to attach himself to a patron. With what Carlyle would doubtless
have praised as showing a certain veracity of intellect, he recognised
the conditions of the game and played it resolutely. He sat for Saltash
in Cornwall as nominee of John Clevland, the Clerk of the Admiralty.
Clevland, a Cornishman of Scotch descent, owned Saltash by inheritance,
and used it with judgment to push his own fortunes in the world. To give
the seat to a naval officer was for him an obviously convenient way of
making it serve that end. In 1751 it was Rodney who was selected, while
he was in command of the _Rainbow_ on the Newfoundland station.
Doubtless, Mr. Clevland’s protection helped to make him a more
acceptable suitor for the hand of Miss Jane Compton, and beyond all
question it helped him to his successive commands of the _Kent_, the
_Fougueux_, the _Prince George_, and the _Monarch_.

Before 1759 Rodney, however, had secured a greater and more powerful
patron than Clevland. I have already quoted the passage of one of his
letters in which he thanked the Duke of Newcastle for all his preferment
in the service. It was to the Duke that he owed his seat at Okehampton
in this year. There does not appear to have been any quarrel with
Clevland, but no doubt reasons judged sufficient by all the gentlemen
concerned made it desirable to give Saltash to somebody else. For the
rest, Newcastle was distinctly a patron worth having. He would, in this
alliance, play doughty Earl of Douglas to Clevland’s Lord of Johnstone
and Rodney’s Laird of Wamphray. It was promotion for the Laird to deal
directly with the Earl. Between 1751 and 1759 there is evidence to show
that Rodney was employed as negotiator in confidential transactions
between Newcastle and the Earl of Northampton. He did not come
empty-handed to the alliance. Rodney had his own “plump of spears,” in
the form of some Parliamentary interest in Hampshire, acquired probably
by his first marriage, which was at the minister’s disposal in return
for the proper consideration. Still there can be no sort of doubt as to
the relations between the men. They are indicated in a letter dated
“Spithead, December 2nd, 1759,” which lies written in Rodney’s large,
flowing, but slightly gouty handwriting in the Newcastle correspondence.

“My Lord,” he begins, “I beg Your Grace will permit me to return you my
most sincere thanks for the Honour you have bestowed on me in chusing me
a Member of Parliament for Okehampton. A steady adherence to Your
Grace’s commands shall ever distinguish me while I have a seat in the
House.” Then after a few words of congratulation on Hawke’s recent
magnificent victory off Quiberon, he ends, “I have the Honour to be with
the utmost Respect and Gratitude Your Grace’s most Devoted and most
obedient humble Servant, G. B. Rodney.” The style of the time allowed a
gentleman to write in this submissive way, but it was a gentleman who
was protected writing to his protector. That this was the footing on
which the Admiral stood to the Duke he never attempts to conceal, nor is
there the slightest reason to suppose that he saw aught undignified in
it. There is something respectable in the honesty with which he tells
the naked truth as to his election for Okehampton.

The Parliament he joined in this year did not last long. It was
dissolved by the death of George the Second in 1760, and a general
election was made necessary. At once Rodney hastened to put his
Parliamentary influence in Hampshire at the minister’s command. He did
not again sit for Okehampton, but for Penryn. It appears, from a very
piteous letter of Rodney’s to West of the Admiralty, written in
February, 1761, that Okehampton was wanted for a Mr. Wenman Coke who was
to be elected “on the interest” of Mr. Thomas Pitt. Rodney asks West in
anguish to tell him, “for God’s sake,” what he has done “to gain His
Grace’s displeasure,” which is the harder to bear because he came in
only to serve His Grace, and wishes to “continue on no other
foundation.” West stood his friend, and the Admiral was sent down to
contest Penryn, where Clive was spending his Indian booty in “making
himself an interest.” Rodney, though his reputation was as yet small,
not only in comparison with what it was destined to be, but with that
of several of his contemporaries, was a distinguished naval officer, and
Cornwall liked naval officers. He could, moreover, pay part at least of
his expenses. It may be, too, that the death of Admiral Boscawen in the
January of this year opened the way for Rodney by removing the natural
candidate of the important Falmouth family. However that may be, Rodney
went down supported by the Boscawens and the Edgcumbes, and recommended
by His Grace. The contest is the subject of a letter of his to his
patron, which is so characteristic of the man and the time that I shall
quote it bodily.

     PENRYN, _March 25th, 1761_.

     MY LORD--I must beg leave to lay before Your Grace the present
     situation of affairs at this place, where I arrived on Sunday last,
     and hence in company with Lord Falmouth and Mr. Edgcumbe canvassed
     the town.

     We find at present but a small majority owing to the defection of
     several officers in the customs and salt office, both here and at
     Falmouth, as likewise two men belonging to the Pacquets, who are
     all obstinate in opposition, the Agents of the other party having
     had the presumption to read a letter as from Your Grace, which has
     deluded these people so much that Mr. West’s letter signifying Your
     Grace’s pleasure had not the least effect. I must therefore join
     with Lord Falmouth and Mr. Edgcumbe for the Dismission of one
     Charles Robbins, a Tydesman, etc., at Falmouth, which may have the
     desired effect on the other officers.

     I must now take the liberty to point out to Your Grace a measure
     which I am sure will infallibly secure the election, and which I
     most earnestly entreat may take place immediately, as it will
     convince the people in general (whose minds have been poisoned with
     different notions) that I have the honour to be nominated by Your
     Grace as candidate.

     Captain Peard of the Savage sloop of war, a Freeman of this Town,
     whose friends have great influence, has been offer’d by the
     adversaries a bond of one thousand pounds, and that they will
     procure him a Post Ship; he has resisted the temptation, and
     continues firm.

     If Your Grace will make it a Point that it may appear here before
     the election that Captain Peard has post, I am sure all
     difficulties will be removed. My ship, the _Marlborough_, has no
     captain appointed as yet.

     From Your Grace’s firm friendship to me I cannot doubt but you will
     grant me this further mark of your favours, as I shall always
     continue to be with the utmost gratitude and respect Your Graces
     most obedient and most humble Servant,


Thus did they consult the voice of the people in 1761. Whether Charles
Robbins was dismissed, and Captain Peard had post, I do not know, and it
does not greatly matter. Probably they were respectively punished and
preferred, for Rodney was duly elected and returned to Parliament once
more as one of the trusty band of gentlemen who enabled the “noodle of
Newcastle” first to impose himself on the great Pitt and then to trip up
his heels.

It is to be wished that some more heroic tale had to be told of Rodney
as a Parliament man, but even from a biographer a decent measure of
respect for fact is required, and the honest truth is that Rodney was
one of the “items” which made up the sum of political strength in the
hand of His Grace of Newcastle. There was in his case no shadow of that
comely pretence of a regard for the principles of a party which was
exacted from the nominee to a pocket borough in the last years of the
old system. He did not profess to take a seat in order to fight for his
principles. He struggled for one in order to push his fortunes, and in
order to get the seat he made himself the humble servant to command of
the silliest and basest of the politicians of the eighteenth century.
Whatever amount of stain this may be supposed to inflict on his
character must, it is to be feared, remain there.

On the other hand, there is something to be said about the extent and
nature of that stain. A man is to be judged by the morality of his time,
and beyond all doubt that morality permitted Rodney to do what he did.
To attach yourself to the Duke of Newcastle or any other patron was not
thought to be an act deserving praise, but it was permissible without
too much loss of character. It was only one of the many compromises
which are necessary in life. If his patron had been other than
Newcastle, who could not be served except by those who were prepared to
subordinate in things Parliamentary all principle and patriotism to the
interest of their patron, there would to a humane judge be no stain on
his character at all. As it was, he followed many others to do a thing
made disgraceful by the character of his leader, and I greatly fear that
he never woke up to the real nature of his course, but remained to the
end of his life convinced that a gentleman might, without loss of
character, profess himself the “man” of such a one as His Grace of
Newcastle in order to earn place by that act of homage. Here, again, a
consideration on the other side suggests itself. It is this, that
Rodney’s conduct differed rather in certain superficial matters of form,
than in kind, from that of gentlemen of mark in the political world of
to-day. There are many who would now make to a caucus that promise of
unconditional obedience which he made to Newcastle, and would never be
called contemptuous names for so doing except in the criticism of the
other side, which is a matter of course, and, by the way, did not spare
the led captains of the electioneering duke. Which of the two forms of
slavery is the more ignoble is a question to be settled rather by the
taste than the reason. There are who would think it more shameful to be
horsewhipped by a gentleman single-handed than to be dragged through a
horse-pond by a mob. To the fastidious either experience is unpleasant.
For the rest it was true in 1761, as it had been before and has been
since, that “The rising unto _Place_ is laborious; and by Pains men come
to greater Pains; and it is sometimes base; and by Indignities men come
to Dignities.” A man, too, ranks rather by what he does with his dignity
when it has been won, than by what he does to win it. Now, it cannot be
denied that if Rodney stooped somewhat to pick up command, he exercised
it for the good of his country and the confusion of her enemies.

His electioneering adventures have been allowed to slightly overlap his
services at sea. Between his election for Okehampton and his return--as
Clive’s fellow-member, by the way--for Penryn he did a good stroke of
service in the Channel. The French were busy in 1759 in preparing a
great invasion of England. Flat-bottomed boats, such as were afterwards
to reappear on a much more imposing scale in the Napoleonic wars, were
being built all along the Channel. A powerful fleet was getting ready at
Brest, and a smaller force at Rochefort. On our side Sir Edward Hawke
had been told off to watch Brest, and Commodore Duff to pen in the
Rochefort squadron. Rodney, now Rear-Admiral of the Blue, was
despatched with one sixty-gun ship, the _Achilles_, and half a score of
fifty-gun ships, frigates, and sloops, aided by six-bomb ketches, to
answer for the flat-bottomed boats in the Channel ports. The work was
smartly and thoroughly done in the month of July. Some of the
flat-bottomed boats which, under convoy of a galley, endeavoured to
escape from the Seine, and creep along the coast to Brest, were cut off
at Cape Bassin and driven on shore. Havre was bombarded with success,
and numbers of flat-bottomed boats were destroyed, together with great
quantities of the stores collected for the proposed invasion. The
destruction can hardly have been complete, and was probably not even so
extensive as the English supposed. It was enough, however, to deal the
French a shrewd blow. When Rodney returned to port he had greatly
relieved the fears of his countrymen, and had raised his own reputation
considerably. Before the close of the year Hawke’s victory over Conflans
near Quiberon had broken the back of any possible scheme of invasion as
effectually as Trafalgar was to do half a century or so later. It is not
without interest to note that during these operations Rodney had under
his command Captain Samuel Hood of the _Vestal_ frigate, who was to be
his second in the battle off Dominica. When he wished to direct the
inshore operations in shallower water than could be safely navigated by
the _Achilles_, Rodney hoisted his flag in the _Vestal_. The two men now
began a friendship which, if it was not quite proof against the strain
of rivalry in the future--in the heart of one if not of both--was never
openly broken. Rodney must have learned the undoubted capacity of Hood.

The remainder of 1759, the whole of 1760, and the early part of 1761
were passed either in watch and ward in the Channel, or in circumventing
the “adversary” at Penryn. In the last-named year Rodney sailed with a
considerable squadron as Admiral on the Barbadoes and Leeward station.
Here he remained until the Peace of Fontainebleau in 1763. His services
in these two years were divided between co-operating with General
Moncton in the conquest of the French Caribbean Islands, and preparing
the way for the great expedition of Pocock and Albemarle to the
Havannah. Neither part of this service need be repeated here at any
length. The French were in these wars so completely beaten from the sea
that an English admiral engaged on such work as Rodney’s had little more
to do than to superintend the transport of troops, to see them safely
landed, and to organise naval brigades to co-operate with them when on
shore. The work was thoroughly done. Navy and army helped one another in
the proper way, and Martinique, which had repelled an attack in 1759,
soon fell. Other islands followed, and the French were driven from all
their possessions in the West Indies except Hayti. That they were able
to use them against us in the American War which lay ahead was not the
fault of the fighting men, naval or military. The islands were restored
by the diplomatists as a set-off for Canada, which we retained, thereby
removing that fear of French aggression which had hitherto been the main
ingredient in the loyalty of the plantations to the mother-country.

During the conquest of the French islands Rodney regularly reported
progress to his patron of Newcastle, and did it, too, with details which
show that he had measured His Grace’s foot to a hairbreadth. Writing
for instance to Newcastle from Fort Royal Bay in Martinique to give the
good news of the conquest, and point out how advantageous it will be for
His Majesty’s service, he does not fail to insist how useful it may also
be to Thomas Pelham. “I have likewise,” he says, “great satisfaction
when I consider that the conquest puts it into Your Grace’s power to
oblige many of your Friends by the Posts and Employments in Your Grace’s
gift, and which are very lucrative in this Island, particularly those
relative to the customs and Secretary of the Island. This I thought my
duty to represent to Your Grace that you might not be deceived in their
values, which are computed at four thousand pounds a year each. If I
have the good fortune to continue in Your Grace’s esteem, and that my
conduct in this expedition meets with Your Grace’s approbation, I shall
be extremely happy, as among Your Grace’s many friends none is more
truly so than him who has the honour to be with the most profound
respect and gratitude, etc. etc.”

Rodney was not a man to do things by halves, whether it was fighting the
French or cultivating his interest with the Duke of Newcastle. Also he
was clearly a man of the eighteenth century when the need, not to say
the imperative social duty, of obliging one’s friends was much borne in
on governing persons. So, having beaten the French in a workmanlike
style, he hastens to call His Grace’s attention to these two important
facts--first, that there are places of dignity and emolument to give
away, and second, that here is George Brydges Rodney, His Grace’s humble
and grateful servant. Then he leaves him to perpend.

If Rodney cherished any hope of good things to be obtained by the help
of Newcastle in the West Indies he was to be disappointed. In more ways
than one his command in these wars was less good than he might
reasonably have expected. A grant of land in one of the conquered
islands turned out to be mere fairy gold. It had not been confirmed in
time, and with the retrocession of our conquests any chance of making it
good disappeared. Rodney had to complain, too, that General Moncton and
the military gentlemen, particularly those of them who belonged to the
North American plantations, had secured an undue share of the
prize-money. He accused them of underhand dealings with the enemy, and
not without good grounds. Owing to these dubious transactions of theirs,
the naval officers, he complained, did not get their fair share. All
this business of prize-money, and the division of it, plays a very
important part in the history of the navy for as long as there were wars
in which booty was to be earned. The desire to obtain it was a great
motive with both officers and men. Lord Dundonald has left it on record
that a captain who had a reputation for luck never had any difficulty in
finding volunteers to man his ship, even when the most severe use had to
be made of the press to complete the complement of other ships. In so
far the acts for the encouragement of seamen, which recognised and
satisfied this natural human love of occasional lumps of extra money,
served the purpose for which they were designed. But their influence was
by no means wholly for good. Our fathers were much of Cassio’s mind.
They took it for granted that the lieutenant was to be enriched before
the fore-mast hand, the captain before the lieutenant, and the admiral
before the captain. When the man got a few pounds, just enough to keep
him drunk for a fortnight, the lieutenant gained a few score, the
captain a few hundreds, the admiral gained thousands, for he shared in
all the prizes taken on his station, whether he had been present at the
capture or not. It is therefore easy to see what an important matter
prize-money was to a flag-officer. To get a rich station, and to keep it
free from the intrusion of a superior, was the ideal of luck. Unless an
admiral was a very magnanimous man indeed, or the pressure of the time
was so great as to silence the voice of interest, he was sorely tempted
to allow the cause of his pocket to interfere with public service. He
was certain to be very angry if a brother-admiral of senior rank turned
up to share the booty, and never failed to take advantage of every
technical excuse which could be found for disputing the claims of a
colleague. How intensely these old heroes resented the diminution of
their “loot,” with what honest natural rancour they would fight over it,
let a long series of quarrels and lawsuits, conducted with all the
pertinacity of Dandie Dinmont, say. In the heart of such as fight on
blue water there has always lingered a something of the pirate--they
have a smack, they do somewhat grow to, as we shall see when this story
has gone a little farther.

The meaning of this same word prize-money must be kept in mind in order
to appreciate the full bitterness of the disappointment which fell upon
Rodney in 1762. Spain had openly avowed the Family Compact, and had
joined her fortunes with France. The avowal would have been made sooner
if Charles the Third had not waited till the treasure-ships were home
from America. By not allowing Pitt to force on a war in time, we gave
the Spaniard a chance, which he lost by declaring war himself when
France was too broken to afford him any help. At once the news was
forwarded to Rodney from Europe, and better he could not have wished
for. A war with Spain, as Nelson said, was a rich war; and for nobody
was it more lucrative than for the officers in command in the West
Indies. They had Cuba and the Spanish main under the lee. There was
nothing to be done but to run down before the unfailing Easterly Trades,
and there lay the Spanish colonies from which the strong man armed had
but to ask with spirit, and to have. Another not unpleasant service was
to cruise to windward of the passages through the Caribbean Islands, and
there snap up the register ships as they passed. When, then, the news of
the Spanish War reached Rodney, he set to work with all the energy of a
commander for whom pleasure and duty were combined in an eminent degree.
The French were so completely subdued that the English squadron could
safely be spared from the Leeward Islands. Rodney decided to strengthen
the Jamaica station, which was distinct from his own; and not only so,
but to go there himself in order to assist in the defence of the island,
in case a combined attack was made on it by the Spaniards and the
French, who had recently contrived to smuggle a few ships through the
Caribbean Islands to Hayti. In a despatch to the Admiralty he expressed
the hope that their lordships would approve of his decision to take this
course without waiting for orders. Having wound up his formal duties on
the Leeward station, Rodney prepared to run down to Jamaica, and no
doubt every man on board his flagship was looking forward to a slap at
the Spaniards and a share of the booty with a natural, and withal
honourable, feeling of satisfaction. But at the very last moment there
came upon all these tender leaves of hope a frost--a killing frost. On
March 26th Captain Elphinstone of the _Richmond_ frigate turned up with
orders from home. By the despatches brought him Rodney learnt that a
great expedition was preparing in England for an attack on Havannah. It
was to be commanded by Sir George Pocock. As for him, he was to remain
on his station in order that he might render all possible assistance to
the expedition as it passed. Rodney obeyed orders punctually. Ten sail
of his squadron were sent to Jamaica, and he remained at Antigua
collecting stores, water, and information for the use of Sir George
Pocock. After delays which might have proved fatal, the great expedition
arrived. It was carried by Pocock through the dangerous and then
little-known Bahama Channel--a feat which was quoted as a masterpiece of
seamanship--and after desperate fighting did take Havannah. The loss of
the expedition by disease was heavy; but Pocock and Albemarle, the
admiral and general in command, made a handsome fortune each out of the
prize-money. Rodney’s share in the enterprise was to see his squadron
depleted to strengthen Pocock; to have a great deal of work thrown on
him; to be left behind at Antigua with the mere carcass of his command,
and nothing but routine to attend to; to be, moreover, prostrated by a
smart attack of bilious fever. Pocock had taken his best ships and
officers, but had left him behind, having no desire that another
flag-officer should come with him to divide the expected plunder.

On this, as on all other occasions, Rodney obeyed orders exactly, and
without futile complaint. He was too able--too much a man of the
world--to suppose that he could gain anything by showing himself
unmanageable; too honourable a man to revenge a private disappointment
by neglecting the service; and, above all, too proud a man to make an
outcry where he had no quotable grievance. None the less he was
disappointed, and did not scruple to say so when a fitting occasion
presented itself. He did not do so now because there really was no
ground for protest. It was a matter of course that a great expedition
should be commanded by an officer of proportionate rank. Pocock was his
senior both in rank and length of service. He had lately commanded with
fair success in three battles in the East Indies against a superior
French force. Rodney could not complain when such a man--whose
reputation was then higher than his own--was put over his head. It was
for Pocock and the Ministry to decide whether the expedition to Havannah
required the presence of the Admiral on the Leeward station. They did
not think it did, and so Rodney had to remain at his unremunerative
command. Still, to Rodney, who neither was nor pretended to be
indifferent to money, it was a disappointment to lose so splendid a
chance. Some years afterwards he made it an excuse for a claim to be
allowed to retain the governorship of Greenwich Hospital along with an
active command at sea. He then plainly told Sandwich that he thought the
Government owed him this, which had been granted in the noontide of
jobbery to former admirals, as a compensation for what he had lost in
the West Indies in 1762. If this did not sound heroic, it was honest and
human. Moreover, it was only what was to be expected. If a government
holds out the chance of earning money as an incentive to its officers
and men, it must expect that its officers and men will think of money.
Rodney did not cant on the subject. He liked money and wished to earn it
as easily as possible. His code of honour consisted of two articles. The
first was that he was to do his duty; the second was that he was
entitled to all the places, pensions, allowances, prize-money, and
praise which law, or public opinion, or the customs of society entitled
him to get, down to the last farthing. Whoever stood in his way must
take the risk of whatever George Brydges Rodney could do to break his
neck--always in the way of fair fighting. It was not the code of a
saint, or of an unselfish hero; but it was a good working code of honour
for a plain man of the world.



In 1763 Rodney returned home and hauled down his flag. He did not hoist
it again in war time for sixteen years, though in the interval he held a
peace command in the West Indies. Before again going to sea--from 1765,
in fact, to 1771--he had the governorship of Greenwich Hospital. In 1764
he was made a baronet. In the same year he married for the second time.
The lady was apparently of Dutch descent, and by name Henrietta Clies,
the daughter of one John Clies of Lisbon, who again was probably a man
of business. During these years of quiet he rose steadily in rank. In
1762 he became Vice-Admiral of the Blue, in 1771 Vice-Admiral of the
White, and in the following year of the Red. This division of the navy
into the Blue, White, and Red Squadrons, which has now been entirely
given up, was purely formal in Rodney’s own time. It had been invented
in the seventeenth century when fleets of eighty or a hundred ships of
all sorts and sizes were collected in the North Sea to fight the Dutch.
A sub-division had to be made if they were to be handled at all. They
were split into three squadrons, which were distinguished by the colour
of their ensigns--the blue, now used only by yachts or naval reserve
ships; the red, now used by merchant ships; and the white, the red cross
of St. George, which was at all times emphatically known as the English
ensign, and is now the flag of the navy. The highest in dignity, though
we have named it second here, was the red--the royal colour. Until late
in the reign of George the Third, not long before the division was given
up altogether, there was no Admiral of the Red Squadron, but only Vice
and Rear. Admiral of the White was the highest rank an officer looked to
reach. The classification was kept up in theory, because it was supposed
to answer to the natural division of all forces into van, centre, and
rear, though in practice it was not much attended to. Among the admirals
a man’s colour simply marked his seniority. It may not be thought out of
place to name the successive steps in order. They were--

    Rear-Admiral of the Blue--White--Red.
    Vice-Admiral of the Blue--White--Red.
    Admiral of the Blue--White.

The establishment of the Navy also provided that there should be one
Admiral of the Fleet who flew the union at the main; but this was with
few exceptions an honorary, and not an active, post.

The governorship of Greenwich Hospital, which Rodney, now Sir George,
held from 1765 to 1771, was such a comfortable post as might very
properly be given to a naval officer who had served with credit. If
family tradition is to be trusted, and it is doubtless substantially
correct, Rodney was a good-natured Governor to the pensioners. The
Hospital was at that time a hotbed of the dirtiest conceivable jobbery
and thieving of the lowest type of the eighteenth century. A few years
after Sir George had left it, Captain Baillie, who had become
Lieutenant-Governor in 1773, published an account of its condition which
led to a famous scandal, and a famous trial. From Baillie’s narrative
and the evidence produced in support of it, and in his defence in Court,
it was shown that the funds were habitually pilfered; that dependents of
great political personages were foisted on an institution established
for the benefit of seamen; that the pensioners were starved and
neglected. In point of fact the sailors who did get in were looked upon
as a technical excuse for drawing the funds of the hospital, which were
then divided among a mob of placemen. To be named a minor official and
authorised to deal with contractors was to be provided for for life. It
seems to me superfluous to say that Rodney never so much as put out his
little finger to amend this sort of thing. His own friend Sandwich was
one of the worst sinners connected with it all. To expect that a
gentleman who was in the way of meeting Sandwich frequently at dinner,
was on his side in politics, and looked to an alliance with him as a
means of obtaining promotion, was going to hurt his own prospects and
disturb the comforts of social intercourse merely because the office he
happened to hold--partly, too, by the goodwill of this same
Sandwich--was reeking with corruption, precisely as every other office
was, would have been foolish indeed. Rodney would, no doubt, have
allowed that it was all very contemptible; but then, so were so many
other things, and as public business could not be carried on without
jobbery, this piece of jobbery must be taken in with the rest. What,
however, he could do was to be good-natured to the individual
pensioner; and this, it seems, he was. On the general principle that the
least possible proportion of the funds of the Hospital should be devoted
to the purpose for which they were originally assigned, it had been the
rule that greatcoats should only be given to the men as a special
favour. The Governor had power to grant this indulgence. Rodney was much
too good-natured a man to refuse a favour--which cost him nothing--to a
poor old sailor, and accordingly greatcoats soon became the rule, and
not the exception, in Greenwich. The story also says that there was a
naval Bumble, by the name of Boys, at the Hospital, who was outraged by
this lavish treatment of paupers. He was Rodney’s Lieutenant-Governor,
and himself a naval officer. At the weekly Board he expressed his
surprise at his superior’s extravagance. An anonymous writer in the
_Naval Chronicle_ speaks of the look which the Admiral was wont to put
on when things were sprung on him. We can imagine it--a mixture of
surprise, indignation, and contempt, all kept in order by the
instinctive self-control of an English gentleman. Boys had the benefit
of it now as he heard Sir George Rodney’s answer, which is reported as

     I have the greatest respect for you as a man who, by the greatest
     merit, has raised himself from the station of a fore-mast man to
     the rank of an admiral--a circumstance which not only does you the
     highest honour, but would have led me to have expected you as an
     advocate instead of an opposer to such a necessary indulgence. Many
     of the poor men at the door have been your shipmates, and once your
     companions. Never hurt a brother sailor. And let me warn you
     against two things more: the first is in future not to interfere
     between me and my duty as Governor; and the second is, not to
     object to these brave men having greatcoats whilst you are so fond
     of one as to wear it by the side of as good a fire as you are
     sitting by at present. There are very few young sailors that come
     to London without paying Greenwich Hospital a visit, and it shall
     be the rule of my conduct as far as my authority extends to render
     the old men’s lives so comfortable that the younger shall say when
     he goes away, “Who would not be a sailor to live as happy as a
     Prince in his old age?”

The form of this rebuke may owe something to the reporter, but Rodney
was just the man to have said the substance. To do a good-natured thing,
repel an intrusion on his authority, and remind an officer who had come
in through the hawse-hole of the respect he owed his social superiors,
while fully acknowledging his merit, was quite in the Admiral’s way. For
the rest, Boys richly deserved his snubbing. Rodney also showed a
wholesome dislike to useless dirt. He first established the practice of
clearing away from the shore in front of the Hospital the garbage thrown
up by the river. The administrative garbage he left alone, and perhaps
it was as well for us that he did. If he had meddled with it he would
certainly have come in contact with Sandwich, and the result of that
collision would have been that he would have been left on shore
throughout the American War, as both Duncan and Campbell were. They were
the friends of Keppel, and therefore the enemies of Sandwich, and
therefore also were left unemployed--at a time when England had need of
every man--though known to be among the best officers in the service.

In 1768 Rodney stood, and was elected, for Northampton. The same arts
that gained a power, must maintain it. It was necessary for him to keep
that position in the House which had hitherto been so useful. But times
had changed. He could no longer be “chosen member for Okehampton” by
Newcastle, whose day was over--who indeed died in this very year. The
King had set himself resolutely to fight the Whig oligarchy with its own
weapons, and was doing it with success. Rodney took his place with the
King’s friends, and did it this time at his own expense. The fight for
Northampton was very severe, which, given the time and place, means that
it was very costly. It gave Rodney his seat in the House, but it hung a
load of debt round his neck from which he did not shake himself free for
years. Nor was electioneering the only “method of evacuation” to which
he had recourse, and perhaps it was not even the most effectual. He
lived in the great and “fast” society of his time, which may safely be
taken to be only another way of saying that he gambled. Between the one
form of extravagance and the other he certainly impoverished himself.

In 1771 he was appointed to a command, and again sailed to the West
Indies. The dispute about the Falkland Islands seemed likely in that
time to lead to another war with Spain. If it had done so, the West
Indian command would in all probability have made good the damage done
to Rodney’s fortune by his seven years on shore. Money was now very
important to him, and as has been already said, he made a claim to be
allowed to retain his governorship while in command at sea. With the
help of the double salary he might have been able to free himself from
his liabilities. But the request was refused, and he sailed for his
station, which was on this occasion Jamaica, and not the Leeward
Islands. Here again disappointment awaited him. The quarrel with Spain
blew over, and there was no war. In the early days of his command Rodney
caused His Majesty’s ministers some considerable anxiety. Just after his
arrival on the station there had arisen one of those periodical
squabbles with the Spanish guardacostas which had been the fertile cause
of quarrels and bloodshed in the West Indies. An English tender which
was found “prowling with hostile keel,” as Mr. Bright would have said,
too close to the Spanish main, was arrested by the Spanish cruisers. It
doubtless appeared ominous to the officers of the Catholic king, who
must have been perfectly well aware of the nature of the relations of
the two countries at the time, that an armed English ship should have
been just there just then. Rodney took a high tone, protested fiercely,
and sent a line-of-battle-ship to look into Carracas. Technically he was
in the right, but his superiors at home were far from pleased at his
promptitude. There was no wish in England--not at least among those who
were responsible for the government of the country--for a war with
Spain. When, therefore, it was known that war-ships had been sent on a
mission of remonstrance, and almost of menace, into a Spanish port,
ministers who knew what a trick the cannon had of “going off by
themselves” in the West Indies were greatly displeased. The Ministry
suspected their Admiral of an intention to bring on a quarrel if he
could. Rodney was sharply rebuked for sending a subordinate officer to a
place where a little want of tact and temper might so easily produce a
collision. Sandwich even took very strong measures. In a letter which is
a model of official reprimand he told Rodney quite plainly that if he
thought a war in the West Indies would do him any good he was greatly
mistaken. If war should unfortunately break out, said the Minister, it
would be necessary to send out strong reinforcements, and in that case a
superior officer would be sent in command. Rodney could be trusted to
know what that meant. It was manifestly calculated that he had no wish
to repeat his experience in 1762. How far the suspicions of the Ministry
were founded no one can say. Probably they were not altogether baseless.
No doubt Rodney, like other Englishmen in the West Indies, did long to
give the Spaniards a lesson. Sandwich, measuring the corn of others by
his own bushel, may have thought that an officer whom he must have known
to be embarrassed in his affairs would risk much for the chance of a
stroke at a Spanish port or the capture of a treasure-ship. Here, again,
he was certainly not altogether wrong. Rodney’s need of, and desire for,
place and money in those years was great, and was quite frankly avowed.
He was, however, far too capable a man not to know that too much may be
risked even for the greatest prize. To fall into disgrace at
headquarters would be ruin. When therefore he distinctly understood what
the Ministry wanted he conformed precisely to their wishes, and was soon
rewarded by being told that the King was pleased with him.

The remainder of Rodney’s three years of command, then as now the fixed
term of a commission, were passed in routine work. He showed his natural
hatred of slovenly inefficiency by stamping out one scandalous little
piece of jobbery. It had become the custom in Jamaica to water the
fleet by contract. There was no real need to do so. Good water had been
obtained in the immediate neighbourhood of Port Royal by Vernon, and
could be obtained again. Nothing more was needed to make it accessible
than the construction of a small aqueduct to bring the water down to the
beach. Under the pretence that it could only be obtained good in the
high ground, a system had arisen of buying it from contractors, who sent
it down to the beach in barrels. There it was taken by the ships’ boats.
The system was thoroughly bad. It was costly; it imposed a great deal of
hard beach work on the seamen, which was bad for their health in the
tropics; it caused a great waste of time, the water supplied was
inferior, and the length of time during which they were on shore
afforded the sailors too many opportunities to get drunk. The one
advantage the practice had was that it allowed of many mutually
advantageous pecuniary transactions between the government officials and
the contractors. On this pleasant commerce Rodney ruthlessly put his
foot. In vain was it represented to him that nobody knew where Admiral
Vernon had watered, that the spring had disappeared, that, in short,
there were a dozen excellent reasons why the water must be brought down
in barrels. The Admiral was not to be fooled. He hunted the spring up,
and found that only a narrow slip of marshy ground separated it from the
beach. After a tussle with red tape, he contrived to get a small
aqueduct constructed, and so set up a rational watering-place. He was
rewarded, as too many reformers have been, by the ingratitude of those
for whom he worked. The sailors ended by hating the aqueduct. At first,
indeed, they blessed the Admiral, who had relieved them from the toil
of rolling barrels down the beach and shipping them. But soon they
discovered that if there was no more beach work there were no more
opportunities of “sucking the monkey,” which, as Swinburn explained to
Mr. Peter Simple, was the name given to the practice of sucking rum from
cocoa-nuts. Then they d----d the Admiral in chorus. To that, however,
Rodney was supremely indifferent. His aqueduct was made with notable
results, both in economy of money and for the health of the men of the
squadron. This story is more to Rodney’s credit than some others we have
come across. If the watering contracts had been necessary for
electioneering purposes he would doubtless have tolerated them as he did
other corruptions--because Parliamentary government could not be carried
on without them--and in that case the end would have justified the
means. But where there was no such excuse, then Rodney could put himself
to some trouble for the good of the service. This is what distinguishes
him from meaner men. They would have lazily tolerated the old muddle, or
have shared the gains of jobbery. Rodney was not a man of that stamp.
When he did attain command he knew what things worked for efficiency,
and would insist on having them done.

As his commission drew towards its end Rodney saw the approach of the
time when he must return to England--to face his duns on half-pay. It
was a disagreeable change, which he would fain have avoided. Nor was it
difficult to fix on a method of escape. If he could have passed from the
command of the station to the governorship of Jamaica he would be fairly
well extricated from this ugly pass. Sir W. Trelawney, the Governor in
office when Rodney went out, was in ill health. The Admiral decided to
offer himself as candidate for the vacancy, which everybody foresaw
would soon be made by the West Indian climate. Some months before poor
Trelawney’s shoes were empty--in the summer of 1772, in fact--Rodney was
already bestirring himself to secure the friendly offices of Sandwich.
It was a cause of bitter anger to the Admiral that these efforts were
made in vain. He had very good claims to the office, both on the ground
of his services as a naval officer and his knowledge of the West Indies.
He must have felt, too, that he had claims of a kind even more deserving
to be recognised than any based on service and knowledge, namely, the
votes he had given in Parliament and the money he had spent in
elections. Sandwich politely ignored both kinds of claim. The tone of
his answers to Rodney is that of a politician writing to a gentleman
from whom he does not expect useful support in future. His letters are
civil, but fusionless, with here and there a point of irony. He begins
with a dry remark that Sir W. Trelawney is still alive, and, so far as
ministers know, is likely to live; but, of course, if a vacancy should
occur it would be most proper that Sir George should have it; and he,
Sandwich, writing as a friend, would advise him to stir his, Sir
George’s, friends up to exert themselves. For the rest, Sandwich does
not object to tell him in confidence that there is no rival in the
field. Rodney knew his world too well to be in any doubt as to what that
meant. Sandwich would give no effectual help. If he wanted the place for
a partisan of his own he would even oppose. The place was obviously
wanted for somebody else, the partisan of Sandwich or of whomsoever else
had the patronage. When Sir W. Trelawney died in 1773 he was succeeded
by Sir Basil Keith. At the very close of this part of their
correspondence Sandwich, to judge from a sentence in one of Rodney’s own
letters, seems to have hinted that if the Admiral really could not
return to England he had better stay in Jamaica as a private person. The
suggestion was certainly made, and if it did come from Sandwich it more
than trenched on impertinence. Rodney refused to stay on any such
footing in a society which had seen him in a great command. When his
three years were up he returned to England, and struck his flag at
Portsmouth in September, 1774.

He returned to England an embittered and disappointed man, believing and
saying that he had been treated with gross ingratitude. It is of course
easy to say that this was absurd, that Rodney had held a succession of
good commands, and that if he had embarrassed himself by gambling and
electioneering, this want of judgment on his part did not entitle him to
more places. To this, if it had been said in the society to which he
belonged, Rodney might very properly have replied by asking the speaker
either to cease his impertinence or clear his mind of cant. As between
himself and Sandwich these embarrassments did constitute a claim. It was
an understood thing that when a gentleman had spent his money for the
right interest at elections he was entitled to compensation for it in
the form of office or pensions. If he did not obtain recognition it was
not because of any regard for the public service on the part of
ministers, but because they felt they could drop him with impunity. At
the close of his second West Indian command Rodney had, for the time,
fallen into the class of those who can be dropped. He was too much
indebted to be useful as a candidate for a borough which must be fought.
Men of smaller claims could be found for pocket boroughs. His old
political friends were all very sorry but really----! To be dropped as
useless can be pleasant to no man, and therefore it is not wonderful
that Rodney was savage, and cursed the ingratitude of politicians. For
the moment, however, there was nothing for it but to beat a retreat. At
the close of 1774, or very early in the following year, he did what many
half-pay naval and military gentlemen have been compelled to do
since--he betook himself to the Continent to economise, and set up his
quarters in Paris.

It is of course needless to say that whatever he did in the capital of
France he did not economise. A gentleman who has preserved profuse
habits to the age of fifty-six, which Rodney had now attained, may
indeed (total abstinence being easier to men of passionate temperaments
than moderation) take up with the good old gentlemanly vice of avarice,
but he will not economise. As he did not become avaricious, the Admiral
naturally went on wasting money. By 1778 he had, without as it would
seem shaking off his English claims, contracted French debts to a
considerable amount. With these last is connected one of the most famous
of all the stories told about him. By this year France and England were
notoriously going to war. The House of Bourbon in France and Spain saw
in the revolt of the American Plantations an opportunity to revenge the
humiliations of the Seven Years’ War. Help was given underhand to the
rebels. American naval adventurers were received in French ports. Some
of them even found their way to Paris, where they swaggered in a fashion
which, so he told Lady Rodney, convinced the Admiral they must be
cowards. Finally came open war, the despatch of D’Estaing’s squadron to
the coast of America and the West Indies, and the formation of the great
French fleet at Brest. All this Rodney had to watch with longing. He
went much into the best society in Paris (which helps to account for the
fresh debt), and must have seen the growth of the hopes of the Court
that at last the time was come in which the “proud islanders” were to be
repaid for Quebec, Quiberon, Lagos, and much more. One story--one wild
legend which can hardly have even a basis of fact--tells how Rodney was
actually offered the command of the French fleet if he would betray his
country. A more acceptable tale records his answer to a question from
the Duc de Chartres, known to infamy as Philippe Égalité, as to what
would happen if he, the Duke, met the English at sea off Brest--“That
Your Highness will have an opportunity of learning English.” It was well
to speak up with spirit for his country, but it would have been better
to be in a position to fight for her. This, however, was what Rodney,
tied to Paris by his debts, could not do. His creditors became
clamorous. Thanks to the “protection of the Lieutenant of Police,” they
were not allowed to proceed to extremities. A gentleman was a gentleman
in France at that time, and was treated with consideration. If he was a
foreigner there was all the more reason why he should be tenderly
treated. His duns then were not allowed to imprison him, but they could
not be prevented from dunning him, and until they were satisfied he
could not leave Paris. Rodney applied for employment. A dry official
acknowledgment of the application was the only answer. Lady Rodney
returned to London, leaving the Admiral with his daughters in Paris, in
the hope that friends might be induced to give help. It was all to no
purpose. Rodney remained in Paris, and it seemed not impossible that he
might be kept there by his debts all through the war--perhaps even be
confined in prison as a debtor if ever the Lieutenant of Police were to
withdraw his protection.

From this shameful disaster Rodney was saved by the magnanimity of old
Maréchal Biron. The Maréchal had been much his friend, and in these days
Rodney speaks in his letters to his wife of the old gentleman’s
hospitality to himself and his daughters. At last the Frenchman offered
to lend him enough to pay his debts and cover the expenses of the
journey to England. Rodney was unwilling to accept the generosity of a
national enemy, even though he were a personal friend. It was not until
the offer had been three times repeated, until all hope of help from
England had proved vain, that he at last took the helping hand held out
to him. In May, 1778, he took the loan, paid his debts, and immediately
left for London, coming himself by Dieppe. The last few days in Paris,
he writes, “will be occupied in visiting all those great families from
whom I have received so many civilities, and whose attention in paying
me daily and constant visits in a great measure kept my creditors from
being so troublesome as they otherwise would have been.” It was the best
of the _Ancien Régime_ that it did at least know how to behave itself
like a gentleman.

The exact amount received by Rodney from Biron was 1000 louis. This
being a debt of honour was repaid at once by the help of the Drummonds,
the bankers. The children, who begin now to be constantly mentioned in
his letters, returned under the charge of a servant by way of Calais,
and the Admiral was at last able to push his claims at Court himself.



Rodney was now sixty. In the June of this year 1778 he attained the rank
of Admiral of the White Squadron. He had for some time been Rear-Admiral
of England, an honorary rank, to which however a salary was attached.
The Vice and Rear-Admirals of England were, and indeed are--for the
titles are still to be seen in the navy lists--supposed to be second and
third in command to the Lord High Admiral when there is one. In rank,
therefore, he was at the head of his profession, but his reputation was
still to make. The forty years or so of service which he had
accomplished had gained him distinction, but not more than had been won
by several of his contemporaries. When the American War broke out,
Keppel, Byron, Barrington, and Howe were as well known as himself.
Keppel at least was far more popular. It was the work of the next three
years which secured him his unique position in his own generation. What
has been recorded hitherto must be looked upon as introduction. What is
coming is the real work of his life. Up till now his career has been
divided by commissions and periods of years. The rest will be told in
campaigns and days of battle.

It is therefore interesting to be able to see what kind of man he was,
now when his great career was about to begin. His own deeds and letters
have told something, and will tell more, as to his character, but one
must go to his contemporaries for what he looked like, and what the
world thought of him. Sir N. Wraxall took care to leave some knowledge
on both points duly recorded in his reminiscences. Wraxall is no doubt a
writer whom it is advisable to use with caution. Not being of opinion
that it is worse to tell lies about Whigs than about other people, nor
even convinced that every discreditable story told about a member of
that virtuous party must needs be a lie, I do not know that the
_Mendacium Wraxallianum_ deserves particular condemnation. Still the
book is largely composed of an old man’s reminiscences of other men’s
tittle-tattle. Such an authority is only to be used safely by those who
can distinguish and divide. When, for instance, Wraxall, under the
attractive head of “Rodney’s Amours,” tells us that scandal associated
the Admiral’s name with the frail reputation of very “exalted females,”
we need not take his words as more than what they really are--evidence
of what people said. This again is evidence of what was thought
sufficiently credible to be worth repeating in that world and at that
time. Society then did not think it manifest nonsense to whisper that
this naval officer was the father of one of the limited number of royal
bastards who are of royal blood on the mother’s side. Supposing the
story true, it only proves what is otherwise abundantly known, namely,
that Rodney--living as he did when not at sea in the pleasure-loving
society of London, at a time when it did those things which it always
has done, perhaps more, and certainly more openly than it has done
since--was not morally either better or worse than most men of the

For the rest, these days lay far behind Rodney in 1778. The heat of his
youth had been tamed by age and pain and disappointment. His affection
was now given to those to whom it belonged of right--to his second wife,
and to his children by both his marriages. There is a reference to the
death of his second son by his first marriage, in the shipwreck of the
_Ferret_, in one of his letters to Lady Rodney, which has a very genuine
ring of grief. His eldest son, now an officer in the Guards, seems to
have lived much apart, as was only natural, but from Lady Rodney’s
letters it appears that he was on friendly terms with her and with his
half-brother and sisters. This half-brother went to sea with the father,
and was treated with the best of all forms of kindness--that namely
which insisted on making a man of him, and refused him promotion till he
knew his business. Lady Rodney herself had her husband’s affection and
entire confidence. His letters to her put that beyond dispute.
Collingwood himself, the most tender-hearted of men, did not write of
and to his daughters more lovingly than Rodney. Their names occur
constantly in his correspondence, and thoughts for them, their good, and
their future, were never absent from his mind. The natural instinct, and
sometimes the cant, of the moralist lead him at times to assert that
these domestic virtues in later years are in themselves disproof of the
truth of such stories as are told of Rodney’s earlier life. When that is
not an affectation it is a very innocent belief. Whether it is better
or worse for a man to go through the “mud bath” may be doubtful. What
is certain is that many men do go through it and live to be clean. In
1778 the passion which remained strongest in Rodney was ambition.

Wraxall’s picture of the Admiral’s appearance and manner may be accepted
without any interpretation. He says that he was slight with delicate
features. In that Wraxall is borne out by Sir Joshua Reynolds’s fine
portrait. The features are refined rather than strong, and are small.
Having been taken when the Admiral was old, the face is that of a man
who has suffered much pain. We do not need Wraxall to tell us that the
Admiral’s manners were those of a gentleman and not of a tarpaulin.
Given his birth and training, what else should they be? Again it is very
credible that the Admiral was a copious talker, vehement in the
expression of his likes and dislikes, not at all averse to talk about
himself, nor even to boast. The sailor has always, perhaps to console
himself for much compulsory silence at sea, been open to reproaches
touching his loquacity on shore. Moreover, he is by tradition hearty,
given to speaking out his mind, not so conscious as other Englishmen of
the decency of reticence--whereby if he is a good friend he is also
liable to make enemies. Rodney made many enemies, and the tone of his
letters bears out Wraxall’s assertion that it was by the vigour with
which he condemned what he thought worthy of condemnation.

Rodney’s age at the time of taking his great command is a fact to be
kept in mind. His years had necessarily some effect on his energy. The
state of his health, too, is not to be forgotten. He was older than his
years. The sea life, always a wearing one, was particularly hard in
those times. No man could have inhabited such a floating pest-house as
the _Dublin_ without suffering for it. Besides, gout had made its home
with Rodney long before this. He was liable to be laid up by it at any
moment, and was so well aware of the danger that he took a doctor to sea
with him to attend upon himself exclusively. It is no small drawback to
the efficiency of a commander that he should be for ever compelled to
struggle with an infirmity. There are no want of examples to prove that
the misfortune is one which can be conquered. Rodney’s contemporary,
Maurice of Saxony, beat or manœuvred the allies out of the Low
Countries though he was a cripple with the same disease. Still,
ill-health was a terrible addition to the difficulties of an otherwise
trying position. Age and infirmity must be allowed for in his case,
either for excuse or for honour. It will be necessary sometimes to
remember that if he had been younger and stronger he might have done
more, or that if he had not been old and sickly it would have been less
honourable for him to have done as much as he did. His gout, too, had
inevitably much influence on his relations to his officers. To say
nothing of the notorious effect of this disease on the temper even of
less nervous and passionate men than Rodney, it compelled him to seclude
himself a great deal, and so intensified his natural disposition to hold
himself aloof from his captains. His relations with his subordinates
were rarely friendly, and this had, as it could not but have, effects
which were not for the good of the service. One thing more must be
noted, namely, the extent of his pecuniary embarrassments. This was at
the time public property. All men knew, and Rodney himself never
affected to deny, that command was necessary to him for the money’s
sake. It will be seen that this impecuniosity was one of the excuses
found for attacks on him at a later period. For the present it will be
enough to remember that there was the need, and there was the general
knowledge that it existed.

Throughout the second half of 1778 and the greater part of 1779 Rodney
was established in London at lodgings in Cleveland Street, straining
every nerve to secure a command. He pressed his claims and his views on
the Ministry. His desire was to get back to the West Indies, which, as
the enemy never made any but half-hearted attacks on us in the Channel,
was destined to be the great scene of the war. Those seas were well
known to him, and in a series of able papers he explained to Sandwich
how, in his opinion, we could best conduct operations there so as not
only to defend the islands, but to give the utmost possible help to the
King’s forces on the northern continent. Later on, and after Rodney’s
first successes, the minister hastened to claim credit for having
listened to his arguments and secured his appointment. Rodney himself
asserted emphatically that he owed his command to the King alone. It was
to the King certainly that he applied. For a time he had necessarily to
wait. All the great commands were filled when he returned from Paris.
Neither his rank nor his wish allowed him to serve as a subordinate. He
was therefore compelled to look on as a spectator at the first year and
a half of the war. During that period events were working for him. The
general course of operations was not of a nature to raise the
reputation of other men to his detriment. On the North American coast,
indeed, Howe beat off the superior force of D’Estaing stoutly and by
dint of wary manœuvring. In the West Indies Barrington seized and
held Santa Lucia--a position of immense value, as Rodney well knew--in
the teeth of a far stronger French force. The whole subsequent course of
the war was influenced in our favour by this timely capture. Still these
successes were not of a kind to impose the victorious commander on the
Ministry as a necessary man.

In the Channel the course of the war had removed a whole batch of
formidable rivals from Rodney’s path. Keppel’s feeble action with
D’Orvilliers off Ushant in July, 1778, was a bitter disappointment to
the nation. It was followed by a series of quarrels and courts-martial
more discreditable and more injurious to the country than a defeat could
well have been. The Tory admiral, Sir George Palliser, was egged on by
Sandwich to discredit the Whig admiral, Keppel. There followed
court-martial and counter court-martial. The mob of London took sides
for Keppel, sacked the houses of Palliser and Alexander Hood, and burned
the gates of the Admiralty in Whitehall. The navy went by the ears in a
Whig and Tory quarrel. In the mind of the King and minister there arose
a determination to employ no more Whigs if it could be helped. When the
excesses to which faction carried men in that time are remembered, the
resolution can be fairly justified. Mean things were done by the
Ministry, no doubt. It was scandalous, for instance, that Duncan--he who
afterwards conquered at Camperdown--should have been left on shore
throughout the war, as punishment for the resolution he showed in
securing fair play for his friend Keppel in the court-martial. Still,
when it is remembered that the Whigs as a party were openly opposed to
the coercion of the American colonists, and that they seldom scrupled to
help the enemies of their country if their “connection” could profit
thereby, it is only natural that the King should prefer not to employ
them. If the work was to be done at all, it had better not be put in the
hands of men who were half-hearted in the doing. Now, as this party had
had the whole distribution of patronage for the greater part of the
century, it follows, as the night the day, that the very great majority
of admirals were Whigs. When to be a Whig became not an advantage but a
disadvantage to the officer who was seeking command, great was the
improvement in the position, and unaffected was the joy, of the admirals
who were Tories.

Rodney was a Tory. At what period reflection and experience of public
affairs brought him to these opinions I do not know. He can hardly have
been a Tory when he was writing the letters quoted above to Newcastle.
Probably he went to the side to which his instincts took him as soon as
he saw that England had a king who meant to be king. For himself the
conversion, if there was any conversion, was wholly for his good. I do
not speak of his fortunes, but of his character. In future when he is
found expressing devotion to a master it is not to a party manager, but
to him to whom it was due of right--to his Sovereign. For his fortunes,
too, his creed was advantageous. It must have been a real pleasure to
George the Third to find an admiral who so thoroughly agreed with
himself as to the proper view to be taken of the American insurgents.
There was no doubt about Rodney’s opinions. They were rebels, piratical
rebels, who were to be hunted down and crushed. Through 1778 and 1779
his mobile face and eager eloquence must have been familiar at levees
and drawing-rooms, as he explained with vehement eloquence that it ought
to be done, how it was to be done, and who ought to do it.

In the autumn of 1779 the right officer was chosen. Rodney was appointed
to the command in the West Indies to replace Byron. He was to have the
supreme command in the Leeward Islands and Jamaica, with freedom to
intervene on the American coast. On his way a preliminary piece of
service was to be done. Since the beginning of the war Gibraltar had
been besieged by land and sea. The many claims upon us, and above all
the necessity of standing on our guard in the Channel against an attack
by the immense fleet formed by the combination of the French under M.
d’Orvilliers and the Spaniards under Don Luis de Cordova, had compelled
us to leave our outposts in the Straits, and our other outpost at
Minorca, to their own resources. The cruise of the combined fleets had
done us little harm, owing partly to the diseases which devastated their
ships’ companies, and partly to those qualities of the Spaniard which
have at all times made him the most exasperating of all mankind in a
co-operation. The allies separated with mutual reproaches, and we were
left free to strike a counter-blow. A great convoy was collected in the
Channel. Twenty-one line-of-battle ships were to protect it. Of this
force Rodney was to have the command. His duties were to proceed to
Gibraltar, relieve the fortress, send a convoy up the Mediterranean to
Minorca, then go on himself to the West Indies with four ships, leaving
his second in command, Rear-Admiral Digby, to bring back the empty
transports, the sick and wounded from the garrisons.

From October till the end of the year Rodney was at Portsmouth with his
flag flying in the _Sandwich_, a ninety-gun ship, driving on the
preparation of the fleet and the convoy. His hands were abundantly full.
The dockyards as usual required incessant spurring and whipping up. An
immense correspondence had to be attended to, legitimate and
illegitimate. The official work was bad enough, and it was aggravated by
appeals from all sorts and conditions of persons, from the anxious
mother down to the First Lord of the Admiralty imploring him to take
care of Dowb--to find places, promotion, and favourable attention for
their sons and nephews, and the deserving offspring of important
constituents. Rodney was driven wild by it all, and wrote almost
passionately to his wife, instructing her to inform at least one most
pertinacious acquaintance that Admiral of the White, Sir George Brydges
Rodney, was _not_ a schoolmaster, and would _not_ stand in _loco
parentis_ to an indefinite number of hopeful small boys. Then the wind
joined in the dance. When at last transports and war-ships were ready,
and collected at the back of the Isle of Wight, the westerly gales
settled down to it, and blew right up Channel, whirling rain and mist
along, wrapping up headland and landmark in an impenetrable cloak of
salt haze. To take a heavy convoy of clumsy sailing ships in the teeth
of that wind, between the overlapping headlands which shut in the
Channel, surpassed the resources of seamanship. There was nothing for it
but to wait till it pleased the wind to blow from another point of the
compass. In the meantime the Admiral had to pace the quarter-deck of the
_Sandwich_, or sit in her cabin, receiving and answering pathetic
appeals from the First Lord imploring him to get to sea, for God’s sake
to get to sea, and save not only Gibraltar, but his old friend, who will
be driven rabid by questions in Parliament, and reproaches in places “to
which he pays more attention,” from the King, to wit, if something is
not done and that quickly. During these days the dockyards, the officers
of the war-ships, and the masters of the transports were kept on the
stretch by a rattling fire of orders and rebukes. The Admiral’s doctor
also, Gilbert Blane, had his hands full, no doubt. This gentleman, for
the rest, deserves more than passing notice, for he will be a
conspicuous figure during the great years of Rodney’s life. He is, in
the first place, one of the best of our authorities, and then he has an
honourable place of his own in the history of the navy. With Rodney’s
help and encouragement he did more than any man, except Cook, to drive
the scurvy out of the fleet, and in so doing contributed very materially
to the final victories by providing the admirals with healthy crews. It
is to be noted that the circumstances of this struggle to be off in 1779
were so closely repeated when Rodney was going to sea on his last great
cruise at the end of 1781, that some of his letters of the later date
have been printed under the earlier in his published correspondence.

In the last days of December, 1779, the wind first fell and then shifted
round to the east. With its help the great fleet got under way, and at
last swept clear of the Channel. An immense feeling of relief must have
come to Rodney when at last he saw the Land’s End sink below the
horizon, and he knew that his priceless charge was clear of those narrow
waters which, even in these days of steam, lighthouses, and fog-horns,
the seaman navigates with that wise fear which is the mother of safety.
His convoy consisted all told of over three hundred sail, and must have
covered miles of sea from wing to wing. In the centre were the
transports and merchant vessels. On either side of these sailed the
line-of-battle ships. Ahead, and on the outlook for dangers, went the
frigates, except a few told off to come behind the flock and bark at
laggards. The wind continued fair and the great armament cleared Ushant,
crossed the bay, and had passed Cape Finisterre, when the first of two
well-deserved pieces of luck fell in the way of our fleet. The same
change of wind which had released Rodney from the Channel had opened the
way for a Spanish convoy from Ferrol. It consisted of sixteen vessels
laden partly with merchandise and naval stores, partly with provisions
destined for the Spanish force besieging Gibraltar. A sixty-four-gun
ship, the _Guipuzcoano_, and six frigates or corvettes had been told off
to protect it. Whether it was that luck or their own incorrigibly lazy
habits were against them, the Spaniards were just too late in getting
round Finisterre. As they turned to go south the English dropped right
upon them at daybreak on January 9th, 1780. A general chase was at once
ordered. A Spanish ship chased was a Spanish ship caught, according to a
French naval officer of the time, and in a few hours every one of them
was in possession of an English prize crew. “Help from Spain comes late
or never,” was a proverb in the days when the tercios in the Low
Countries, or in Tunis, looked in vain for help from the procrastinating
government of Philip the Second. It has proved true ever since. On this
occasion the succour came never to the Spaniards in the camp at San
Roque. The provision ships were carried on to Gibraltar for the use of
Elliot and his garrison. The bale goods and naval stores went to England
under charge of the _America_ and the _Pearl_. In order that they might
be the safer from recapture Rodney manned the _Guipuzcoano_, renamed her
the _Prince William_, and sent her also to convoy to England what had
been meant for the help of England’s enemies. The name was taken in
honour of Prince William, afterwards King William the Fourth, who was
serving in the fleet as a midshipman on Admiral Digby’s flag-ship.

A week later a greater capture fell into his hands. On the 16th the
convoy turned Cape St. Vincent, and at one o’clock was at a distance of
about four leagues to the south of it. Rodney knew that the Spaniards
had a squadron at sea to intercept reliefs for the besieged fortress. He
was prepared for them, and had his war-ships now in front. At one the
_Bedford_ signalled that the enemy was visible in the south-east, ahead
of the English between them and Gibraltar. At once the order was given
to form in line abreast (side by side in land language), and approach
the enemy. The wind was from the west or north-west, all in our favour
now, and it rested with us to force the battle on. It was also our
policy to force an action on, as we were in overwhelming superiority of
force. The squadron now in front of Rodney consisted of eleven
line-of-battle ships, one of eighty and ten of seventy guns, and two
frigates. It was absurd to suppose that such a force could offer
resistance to twenty-one line-of-battle ships containing three
three-deckers. The Spaniards were commanded by Don Juan de Langara. With
the extraordinary fatuity which has distinguished the modern Spanish
admiral and general, he had--so he seems to have actually said
himself--taken it for granted that the English would do the most
imbecile thing possible in the circumstances. He knew that a convoy was
on its way to Gibraltar, and he must have known how important it was for
us that the garrison should be relieved. Yet he made his mind up that
the convoy would not be protected by war-ships. In this belief he waited
quietly below Cape St. Vincent till the English convoy was good enough
to run into his jaws. He kept no frigates to windward; he did nothing
but lie there and wait. When Rodney bore down on him he allowed an enemy
of crushing superiority to come close upon him, while he wasted
invaluable time in forming “a line of battle on the starboard tack,”
with the intention apparently of going off in seemly order, instead of
doing the only thing he could do at once, namely, put his ships’ heads
on Cadiz, and fly under every stitch of canvas he could set without
carrying his masts away. So much mismanagement had, could have, and
deserved to have, but one end.

At four o’clock Rodney, seeing that he need not stand on ceremony with
an enemy half his size, hauled down the signal for the line abreast, and
hoisted that for a general chase. There was no time to lose, for in that
latitude the twilight is short, and in that season of the year darkness
was not far off at four o’clock in the afternoon. It was advisable to
get to handgrips before it came on. The English ships were therefore
ordered to go into action as fast as they could, and to take the
lee-gauge. With the wind at west this would be on the eastern side of
the Spaniard. This was for two reasons the best position. It would put
the English between the enemy and his port of refuge at Cadiz, which lay
to south of east of him; and it had this advantage, which at all
conditions belonged to the lee-gauge, that if any of the Spaniards were
crippled in the spars they would be driven by the wind among the English
ships. But in the circumstances the course was a dangerous one, for it
would necessarily bring the English close to the shore in the dark. The
wind was rising, and there was every prospect of a stormy night. It was
not without some hesitation, and after consultation with his
flag-captain, Young, that Rodney finally decided to run the risk. Decide
he did, however, and very shortly after four the quickest of the English
ships were up with the slowest of the Spaniards, who were now--all
futile attempts to keep order having been given up--flying for Cadiz
“like a shoal of frightened porpoises a swarm of sharks pursue.” Ranging
up on the eastern side of them, the leading English ships opened a fire
which was answered with spirit, but, to judge from the very trifling
loss in our fleet, with exceedingly bad aim. Our vessels did not loiter
by the Spaniards they had caught up, but pressed on to those ahead, sure
that the English behind would answer for the lagging enemy. The order to
the sailing-master of the _Sandwich_ was, that no attention was to be
paid to small enemies; she was to be steered for the biggest--for the
admiral if he could be discovered.

The action had not lasted half an hour when one of the Spaniards, the
_San Domingo_, of seventy guns, blew up. One mangled survivor was picked
out of the water, but died before his English captors could carry him to
Gibraltar. At six another of the Spaniards struck. The wind rose
steadily, and the night came, but not the darkness. There was a
brilliant moon, and by its light the English could follow the Spaniards,
who struck one after another. By two in the morning the _Sandwich_ was
alongside of the leading Spanish ship, the _Monarca_. After a few
broadsides she too struck. Then, knowing that the enemy was practically
annihilated, and knowing, too, that the headlong pursuit had brought the
dangerous shoals of San Lucar under his lee, Rodney signalled the order
to stop pursuit, and lie to for the night. By this time the wind had
risen to a gale. For the remainder of the night our squadron was hard at
work. It had to keep off shore itself, and to secure its prizes by
shifting the Spanish officers, and part at least of the men, which, in
the midst of the storm and the darkness which came on at last, were not
easy tasks. Thanks to the difficulties thrown on us by the wind and the
want of light, two of the Spaniards slipped through our fingers after we
had taken possession. One ran on shore with her prize crew, and became a
total wreck. Another was retaken by the Spanish prisoners who remained
on board, and was by them carried into Cadiz. Four of the liners and the
two frigates got away before they could be compelled to strike. The _San
Domingo_, as has been already said, had been blown up. There remained in
Rodney’s possession four line-of-battle ships, including Don Juan de
Langara’s own vessel the _Fenix_, with the Don himself on board
grievously wounded. The day following the battle was spent in
laboriously working off shore. Several of our liners, the _Sandwich_
among them, had got into shoal water in the battle and the darkness, and
were in great danger, in Rodney’s own opinion. But the seamanship of
officers and men was equal to the danger, and before night the war-ships
were out of shoal water, and had rejoined the transports of the convoy,
which had been kept out to sea.

The relief of Gibraltar had now been practically effected. The Spanish
squadron had been swept out of the way, and no other was ready to
replace it. The road therefore was open, but the winds and currents of
the Straits presented difficulties of their own, and it was some days
before the convoy got in--nor did it get in all at once. When the storm
had blown itself out the wind fell, and the fleet was carried by the
currents into the Mediterranean as far as Marbella. From thence Rodney
wrote to Logie, the English Consul at Tangiers, to buy up cattle from
the Moors to be carried over to the garrison, and sent word to Elliot of
the victory. In Gibraltar however it was already known. A midshipman who
was prize-master of one of the Spaniards taken from the Carracas convoy
had brought his vessel into Gibraltar on the 17th. He had passed the
fleets after the engagement began, and had actually seen the explosion
of the _San Domingo_. Then Rodney himself had been seen from the
look-out on the Rock by the help of the flashes of lightning during the
gale, before he was swept out of sight again to Cape Spartel. With their
knowledge of the strength of the Spanish squadron, and what they learnt
from the prize-master of the force under Rodney’s command, the garrison
could have no fear as to the result. They waited in confidence for the
plenty which was to replace their recent short commons. It soon came
pouring in. First Admiral Digby arrived with the wounded Spanish admiral
in his captured flag-ship, and part of the convoy. A few days later
Rodney followed. He had sent his second in command on before, because he
had pilots for the Straits with him and there were none on the flag. A
few days later he came in himself from Tetuan.

He remained at Gibraltar till February 13th, when he sailed for the West
Indies. In the interval there was much to be done. The part of the
convoy destined for Minorca had to be sent on its way, and Rodney had to
wait till the ships protecting it returned. Then in Gibraltar the
squadron had to be looked after, preparations made for the next voyage,
and a ticklish negotiation carried on with the Spaniards as to exchange
of prisoners. It was all successfully done. Minorca was relieved, and
the ships returned. After much correspondence, conducted with infinite
courtly politeness between Rodney and Langara, the exchange of prisoners
was at least partially arranged, and at last the English fleet got off.
Two days later it divided at sea--Admiral Digby to return to the Channel
with the bulk of the force and the homeward-bound convoy--Rodney to make
his way with four ships to the West Indies.

The events of this month of January had completely altered Rodney’s
position. When it began he was a distinguished officer like many others.
When it ended he was the first man in his profession, and the most
popular man in England. The capture of the two convoys, the taking of an
enemy’s admiral and four of his line-of-battle ships, and the relief of
Gibraltar, were by far the most brilliant events of the war so far as it
had yet gone. It was true that we had had the odds in our favour; but
then after nearly two years of depressing dulness the country had begun
to suspect that even when numbers were in their favour its admirals had
not spirit to make use of them. The suspicion was unjust, and no doubt
either Howe or Barrington would have done the work equally well. As for
Byron, “Foul Weather Jack,” his ill luck was really so persistent that
if he had been there the wind would probably have blown a gale from the
east till he gave up attempting to get through the Gut altogether. But
though others might have done the work, as a matter of fact it was
Rodney who did do it, and he reaped the credit as a matter of course.
Besides, although the odds were in our favour, the circumstances had
been of a nature to somewhat redress the balance. The fiery pursuit of
the Spanish fleet in the night and the gale, and on to a lee shore, had
about it something of the “Quiberon touch”--a flavour of the old daring
and seamanship. Here was a man of the old Blake and Hawke stamp--one who
would not come back with a tale of a lee shore as an excuse for letting
the enemy off.

With the King and the minister too the success had done Rodney infinite
good. He had established a claim to their gratitude. That this timely
piece of service should have been done by their Tory admiral was a
great point in their favour. There was something they could throw in the
teeth of Keppel as he sat surrounded by the Whig connection in the
House, snarling at the officers who succeeded him in the Channel
command, and predicting disaster. From this time Sandwich’s letters
become not only most cordial but at times almost submissive. He is quite
eager that the Admiral should tell people that he, Sandwich, had the
credit of making so good a selection of an officer to command. From that
one may judge how pleased the King was. George the Third had chosen
Rodney at least as much as the minister, and he assuredly believed in
the justice of the war in which he was engaged. That his admiral should
have scored a victory in his war was a most legitimate source of joy to
the King. For King, minister, and people alike the substantial results
of the cruise were undeniably admirable. The relief of Gibraltar had
shown that if the Spaniards were to get back the Rock it would not be by
starvation. If they were to get it by other weapons there would need to
be a great change in their methods of attack. The garrison was indeed
much less effectually relieved than the nation supposed; but the failure
was the fault not of the Admiral, but of the Ministry, which had
organised the convoy very ill.



After touching at Barbadoes on his way, Rodney reached Santa Lucia on
March 28th, and fought his first battle in those waters on April 17th. A
variety of causes--some political, some physical--made the West Indies
the great scene of naval fighting in the American War. France had been
induced to help the insurgent colonists, partly from a desire for
revenge, partly in the hope that she would be able to compensate herself
for the losses imposed at the Peace of Fontainebleau by the conquest of
the Lesser Antilles. Spain again had, not without reluctance, for it ill
suited her to encourage the rebellion of colonists in America, been
induced to join the alliance in the hope of recovering Jamaica and
Florida, as well as of driving the English garrisons from Gibraltar and
Minorca. Our possessions in the West Indies were therefore naturally an
object of attack. The most effectual method of extorting both her
Mediterranean outposts and her West Indian Islands would have been to
attack England vigorously at home. As the allies were able to collect a
fleet of over sixty sail at the mouth of the Channel in 1779, some such
attack might, it would seem, have been made. The only force we could
then oppose to them was about thirty line-of-battle. They had, in fact,
what Napoleon longed for--the command of the Channel, and that not for
twenty-four hours but for weeks; yet the capture of a stray sixty-four
was all they could effect.

Why France, which has so often threatened to invade us before and since,
made no attempt to do so when the enterprise had been feasible, and even
easy, is a curious question. The failure of their purely naval
operations is easily explained. The Spaniards, who formed nearly half
the great fleet, were wretchedly inefficient; short of provisions, as
ignorant of the navigation of the English Channel as they had been when
Medina Sidonia blundered into it and out of it, they were, moreover,
miserably sickly. They communicated the plague to their French friends,
who lost four thousand men by it. Apart, however, from this particular
reason for failure, there was a permanent one which weighed on our
enemy. France possessed at that time no port of war on the Channel.
Brest looks on to the ocean. As the prevailing winds of the Channel are
from west and south-west, it behoved a fleet in the old sailing days to
beware how it trusted itself inside of Portland Bill; for if it were
crippled either by storm or battle it might not be able to get out. In
that case there would be nothing for it but to follow the fatal route of
the Armada--to steer for home round the north of Scotland and to the
west of Ireland. The sea, as M. Michelet pathetically observes, hates
France. It has worn her coast flat and provided England with two noble
harbours right over against her, at Portsmouth and Plymouth. Looking at
these unfavourable conditions, the French, from La Hogue downwards,
have generally kept their fleets out of the Channel. Not being able to
attack our heart, they have attacked our extremities. In the American
War the particular extremity they selected was the West Indies.

To understand a general’s fighting it is necessary to get some idea of
his field of battle. The lay historian commonly remembers this well
enough when he is dealing with battles on shore, but whether because he
does not understand them, or discourteously thinks his reader cannot, he
takes no account of the conditions in sea-fights; yet they are every
whit as important and as intelligible. What the hill, the river, and the
wood were to Napoleon or Wellington, the wind, the current, and the lie
of the land were to Rodney or Nelson. They were obstacles to be avoided
or advantages to be used. Rodney’s field of battle lay in the Lesser
Antilles, the long string of small islands stretching over six degrees
of latitude from south to north which form the eastern division of the
West Indies. The Antilles, great and less, are a vast broken reef which
shuts in the gigantic lagoon called the Caribbean Sea. The eastern
division, which reaches north to the Virgin Islands, has been broken
small by the pressure of the ocean. From the Virgin Islands the reef
turns sharp west, and its fragments become few and large--first Porto
Rico is big, then San Domingo is bigger, then Cuba is the biggest. South
of Cuba and in the Caribbean Sea is Jamaica. In 1780 Cuba and Porto Rico
belonged to Spain, as they still do. She shared San Domingo with France,
and longed to recover Jamaica from the hands of England. The Lesser
Antilles were divided among England, France, and Holland. To them
considerations, physical and political, limited the area of the war.

All through the year, except in the immediate neighbourhood of the land
or when the hurricane is raging over them, the Antilles are swept by the
easterly trade wind. According to the season of the year, or the hour of
the day, the trade blows from north or south of east, but it always
blows from the ocean over the Lesser Antilles and along the Greater.
Narrow strips of water are shut out from it by mountains, and
conflicting temperatures cause an alternation of sea breezes by day and
land breezes by night in the neighbourhood of the larger islands. But
the trade is the “true breeze,” the steady uniform force which in the
days of sailing ships gave the law to war and to commerce. It even
affected language, for in the West Indies men did not say east and west,
but windward and leeward. The unceasing pressure of the wind on the
water has established a surface current which flows to the west. Wind
and wave together have worn the windward or easterly side of the Lesser
Antilles bare. All the harbours are on the leeward or western side,
looking into the Caribbean Sea. Thus wind and current alike tend to
force all ships navigating the Antilles to the westward. When this
pressure from the east is taken off it is by a force which suspends all
his labours, whether of peace or war, and sends man crouching into the
first place of safety he can find. From the end of July to the end of
September are the hurricane months. While they last no sailing fleets
cared to keep the sea. They lay in harbour or went elsewhere.

These physical conditions made the Lesser Antilles the gates of the
West Indies. Whoever held them could run down whenever he chose on the
Western Islands, but ships coming from the west must work up into the
wind by weary tacking, or by hugging the coasts of the islands to avail
themselves of every varying puff of land and sea breeze, of every reset
of the currents from the headlands. Whoever was to windward had the
option of attack and the choice of his course. After a little reading of
the accounts of old sea-fights, one can realise how appropriate is the
use of the words “up” and “down” as applied to the leeward or windward
position. He who was to leeward had literally to struggle up to his
enemy as a man toils up a hill. He who was to windward could stand
watching the foe till some such disorder in his line as is very likely
to occur among a number of ships manœuvring together, or some fault
in the course taken, gave him an opportunity to rush down and charge
home. Then, too, the road to and from Europe lay through the Lesser
Antilles. The heartbreaking shallows, reefs, and keys of the Bahamas
make the approach to the West Indies from the north dangerous now; and
in the eighteenth century, when surveys and lighthouses were not, they
formed an almost impassable barrier. Therefore the conquest of the
Lesser Antilles was looked upon as the necessary preliminary to an
attack on the Greater, and so before the French would risk an attack on
Jamaica, they must first drive us out of the positions of advantage to

When Rodney reached Santa Lucia in March the adversaries in the coming
duel were fairly equal in force and advantage of position. M. de Guichen
had arrived at Martinique a few days before with reinforcements, which
gave the French a slight numerical superiority. As the possession of the
islands was divided there was no marked advantage on either side. The
French held Guadaloupe and Martinique, which had been restored to them
at the close of the former war. They had lately captured Dominica, which
lies between the two. They had also snapped up Grenada far away to the
south, under the very nose of Admiral Byron. On the other hand
Barrington had seized Santa Lucia and had held it in defiance of
D’Estaing. This was a satisfactory offset to the loss of Dominica and
Grenada. Santa Lucia lies to the south of Martinique, and a little to
windward of it. At the north-west end it possesses the admirable harbour
of Gros Islet Bay. From this place the French naval headquarters at Fort
Royal in Martinique could be easily watched. Santa Lucia was therefore a
much better station for our ships than Antigua, far to the north, which
they had hitherto used, or Barbadoes, which lies out in the ocean to the
east. When Rodney and Guichen began their struggle they were, as
duellists should be, on fairly equal terms as to ground and sun.

How far they were equally well supplied with weapons is a question not
so easy to settle. In that respect Rodney ought, if our rather
complacent belief in the natural superiority of the British navy is well
grounded, to have had an overwhelming advantage. As a matter of fact,
however, the superiority of our fleet was by no means what it became
later on, and was to remain all through the next war. The French navy
was at its best, and that best was very good. On all modern principles
it should have been by far the better of the two. It was much the more
carefully organised and schooled. From just before the end of the Seven
Years’ War till the beginning of this, the French Government had worked
very hard at its fleet, and with very creditable results. The material
strength of its navy was considerable. When in alliance with the
Spanish, the combined force exceeded our own in mere number of available
ships and guns. The education of the French naval officers was very
thorough. They themselves were, for the most part, _cadets de famille_,
younger sons of noble houses--gentlemen, in short, with the traditional
gallantry of their class. Many of them belonged to families which had
served “on the ships of the King” from father to son since Louis XIV
established the _gardes de la marine_. Chateaubriand, in his _Mémoires
d’Outre-Tombe_, has left a striking picture of the class from which the
French naval officers were mainly drawn, the provincial nobles, who had
kept all the pride of birth, but had not been corrupted by the Court.
Their names read like a roll of those who defended the bastions of the
_langues_ of France or Auvergnes at Rhodes or Valetta. Indeed, they are
often the same, for the connection between the order of Malta and the
French navy was close. Service in the caravans of “the Religion” counted
as service in the King’s ships. The nobles of Provence, who recruited
the order largely, were numerous in the navy, and some of them served in
both--the Bailli de Souffren, for instance, who was by far the ablest of
the French officers who appeared in this war, was a Knight of St. John.
So there is a ring of romance about their names which is somewhat
lacking to our own sober Bowens, Cornishes, Thompsons, and Barbers, all
of which sound but flat alongside of Buor de la Charoulière, Le Gardeur
de Tilly, Visdelou de Liscouel, Carcaredec, Assas-Mondardier, or Tredern
de Lengerec. Among these gallant gentlemen were some of the best
officers who ever served any king. They had studied their profession
hard, and had thought much more of the military part of it than English
naval officers. It is a fact which the reader may think creditable or
not, that the technical treatises, whether on seamanship or tactics,
used by English officers were mostly translated from the French. The
crews of the French ships were formed either of carefully drilled
landsmen, or of the fishermen who were swept into the navy by the
_inscription maritime_. At the beginning of the war they were very well
drilled and efficient.

There were, however, several weak points in this force, one or two of
them of a very fatal kind. The fact that the officers of the regular
corps were all nobles had in some respects a bad effect. It limited
their number for one thing, so that when the whole navy had in modern
phrase to be mobilised, it was necessary to employ supplementary
officers who did not belong to the _gardes de la marine_ and were known
as _officiers blues_. The France of the eighteenth century would not
have been what it was if these intruders had not been regarded with a
certain amount of contempt and jealousy by the nobles. This led to one
kind of dispute. Then again there were jealousies in the privileged
corps itself between the port of Toulon and the port of Brest, between
the division of the Mediterranean and that of the ocean--or, to put it
in other words, between the nobles of Provence and those of Normandy and
Brittany. All these men too were so conscious that they were nobles as
to somewhat forget the fact that they were officers. They thought little
of their rank as compared with their common nobility. They all messed
together, they thee’d and thou’d one another in the friendly second
person singular. This easy good-fellowship must have been socially more
pleasant than the stern subordination of an English ship, on which the
captain lived apart in solitary grandeur, and the midshipmen looked up
with awe to the lieutenants. But of the two, ours was the better system
for discipline. In the French navy the midshipman of sixteen quarterings
made no scruple of giving his opinion to his brother noble the captain,
and the lieutenant who was as good a gentleman as either differed from
both. There was a great deal of discussion in their ships when in an
English vessel an order would have been given and obeyed.

A defect of this kind could have been amended. It would not have been
equally possible to make good the poverty of the maritime population of
France. That weakness was fatal, and beyond remedy. By taking immense
care to drill men in peace, and by sweeping the mass of its merchant
sailors into its war-ships, the French Government was able to start with
an excellently appointed fleet; but it had no reserve. As the war went
on, and men fell by battle or disease, they could not be replaced. It is
notorious that the French navy could never make good the loss of the
four thousand well-trained men carried off by the plague during the
cruise of the combined fleets in 1779. Thus there was a steady loss of
efficiency in their ships which grew in proportion as the number of
vessels in commission increased. It was not possible to find good men
to man them or trained officers to command them. To take a single
instance. At the very close of the war, Sir John Jervis, then captain of
the _Foudroyant_, eighty, took a French seventy-four, the _Pegase_,
after a very feeble resistance. It was found that the French crew were
mostly landsmen collected by hook and by crook, while she was so short
of officers that an _enseigne de vaisseau_--a mate as we should have
said then, a sub-lieutenant according to our present scale of ranks--a
lad of nineteen, was the only officer on her first battery. And this was
only an exceptionally bad example of what was going on all through the
French navy. In the meantime the English navy, drawing its men from a
vast maritime population, and entirely unlimited in its choice of
officers, was steadily getting more efficient. Taken as usual somewhat
unprepared at the beginning of the war, it gradually collected the
flower of our seamen from merchant ships in all parts of the world. Its
officers came to it in thousands, mostly from the middle class, and no
consideration of birth stopped the promotion of competent men when they
could be secured. Under the government of vigorous admirals the fleet
was welded and trained into a ten times better force than it was when
the first shot was fired. This was, however, but the natural result of
the profound difference of kind which distinguished the navies. When the
French King wished to have a powerful naval force, it grew because a
resolute and intelligent administration built it laboriously up. A
high-spirited and alert people supplied brave crews and gallant,
ingenious gentlemen to command them. But the force had no native life of
its own. It was what the State made it and no more. The English navy
was a living force fed by the vitality of the nation. It was ever ahead
of its rulers, and never passively submissive to the impulse from them.
The immense advance in organisation and tactics, in armament, in
gunnery, and construction, which took place in this war, was the work of
the admirals and captains themselves--thought out by them, urged by them
on their official masters at Whitehall, frequently made effective by
them at their own risk and with their own money. The virtue which
redeemed the many faults of the Admiralty was that it did leave to its
commanders elbow-room and power. Between two such forces, one the mere
work of the artificer, the other the living plant, there could be no
doubt where the victory would ultimately rest.

That it was not decided sooner was due to the principles on which the
French chose, and we were content, to fight. Whoever has taken even a
slight interest in our eighteenth-century wars must have been struck by
the inconclusive character of much of the naval fighting. Except where
there was an overwhelming superiority of force, as in Hawke’s attack on
L’Etenduère, and Rodney’s action with Don Juan de Langara, battles were
mere cannonades at a less or greater distance, followed by the
separation of the fleets without loss to either. At Quiberon, where our
superiority in numbers was not so great, the French were flying before
the storm, and in no order, when Hawke pounced on them. In this same
American war there took place a round score of battles of which as much
might be said. Now this was not due to want of will or spirit, but to
the fact that officers on both sides played the game according to rules
which made effective fighting impossible.

With the French it was a settled thing that battles must not be
decisive. They fought in a half-hearted way, not because they wanted
courage, for braver men than Chadeau de la Clocheterie or D’Albert de
Rions, or a hundred others, never walked a quarter-deck; nor because
they wanted skill in tactics, for more ingenious manœuvrers than Aché
or Guichen, or even Grasse, never hoisted a flag; but because they had
always something other in view than the fighting of a battle. It was
taken for granted among them that they must “fulfil their mission.” The
phrase is incessantly turning up in their histories. What it meant was,
that when an admiral was sent to take this island or relieve that town
he must avoid getting his fleet crippled in a yard-arm to yard-arm
fight. The Government habitually impressed on its admirals the necessity
of keeping their fleets intact, and these officers very naturally so
manœuvred as to avoid a really damaging action. Now this style of
manœuvring, though it may be right in particular instances, is fatal
as a general rule of strategy, because it overlooks the elementary fact
that the most effectual of all ways of succeeding in an ultimate object
is to smash the force which the enemy has collected to defeat you.
Besides, it has this deadly moral consequence, that it induces a timid,
passive state of mind, which leaves you at the mercy of the enterprising
enemy who charges home.

The wish to charge home was strong with our men, and the effort
incessant, but until Rodney showed the way on April 12th, 1782, it was
never effectually done. The explanation of this failure is to be found
in the enduring and almost pathetic devotion of the old admirals to the
“line of battle.” When a ship carries her armament on her sides--in a
broadside, that is to say--she must bring her side to bear on the enemy
in order to use her guns. When several vessels so armed are acting
together, they must follow one another in a line, otherwise they would
be constantly liable to fire into friends. Therefore as early as the
first Dutch war fleets were marshalled in a line, one ship following
another, at a distance sufficient to allow room to manœuvre, and yet
near enough to permit of mutual assistance. This is the line ahead or
line of battle. But the object of all formations is to enable you to get
most effectively at the enemy, to break him up, to throw the whole of
your own force on part of his, or at least to be superior at the point
of attack. To do that it is necessary to get right among his battalions
or his ships. This had been well known to the admirals of the
Commonwealth and of Charles the Second, and therefore their fighting was
furious and effective. But from about the Revolution time till the very
end of the American War it was forgotten. Men fell into the pedant frame
of mind. As Molière’s immortal doctors thought much of doing the proper
professional things and little of the patient, the British admiral
thought first and last of his line. To keep that intact, to engage van
to van, centre to centre, rear to rear, to go at it hammer and tongs
ship to ship, till his gunnery had shattered the enemy and thrown him
into confusion, then to order a general chase and pick up the
prizes--this was what the British admiral dreamt of when he dreamt of
battles. It was a manly vision, but it could only become a reality if
the enemy was prepared to meet him half way--which the French, who did
not want a smashing battle, would never do. So the history of our
battles against equal forces for nearly a century was something like
this:--The British admiral, who is longing to be at them, manœuvres
for the advantage of the wind in order to force on a battle, and gets
it. The French admiral, who wishes to keep his line of retreat open,
accepts battle to leeward, so that he has only to put before the wind
whenever he wants to be off. Under reduced sail he slips slowly along.
The English line comes down at a more or less acute angle. Then when the
van is within gunshot the helm is put down, and the English ships run
along the enemy’s line, cannonading and cannonaded. Of course this means
that they take the fire of every ship they pass, and as the French fire
high, they get cut up in the rigging. When it appears to the French
admiral that the leading English ships are sufficiently crippled, he
puts before the wind and runs down to leeward. Then the British admiral
has to rearrange his line, and make another shot at his slippery enemy.
So it goes on till dark comes, and the fleets separate without loss of a
ship to either. Sometimes they cross on opposite tacks, and the rest is
as before with unimportant variations. The British admiral boasts he has
made the enemy run. The French admiral boasts he has crippled three or
four English ships and repulsed the attack. Each is quite sure he has
won the battle, whereas in fact there has been no battle at all, but
only an artillery duel, which in all war by sea and land is apt to mean
mere noise and waste of powder and shot.

About 1780, however, there were some both in France and England to whom
it had begun to be clear that with such strategy and tactics as this
nothing effectual would ever be done. Among the French officers Souffren
had become disgusted with the feeble principles adopted in his service,
and was longing for an opportunity to show his countrymen a more
excellent way. That Rodney had thought the subject out, and come to
conclusions of his own, he was to show in the first month of his command
in the Leeward Islands. But that subject of King George to whom the
folly of the old way and the need of a better was most clear was not a
seaman at all, but a Scotch gentleman, who is supposed to have been one
of the originals of Monkbarns. The name of Clerk of Eldin, the father of
Sir Walter Scott’s friend, must needs be mentioned in a life of Rodney.
A considerable controversy has raged over the question, whether he
influenced the Admiral, and if so to what extent. Like most controversy,
it has owed not a little of its vitality to a lax use of terms, and of
its rancour to professional vanity. To this day naval officers hear the
name of Clerk of Eldin with a certain irritation. It is an exasperation
to them that a landsman should have the credit of discovering what
remained hidden for so long to so many famous admirals. Yet that he did
see what they had not seen is certain. His family had crossed his boyish
longing to go to sea, and he consoled himself by making the sea his
hobby. He made short voyages from Leith. He sailed toy fleets on his
pond at Eldin. He carried little models of ships--wild ducks is the
proper name of them--in his pocket, and manœuvred them on the
mahogany whenever host or guest would allow him to mount his hobby.
Like a true Scotchman, he could not be satisfied without worrying out
the principles. At last it became clear to him that, until our admirals
gave up running along the enemy’s line, and took to smashing into it,
there would be no end of battles such as Pocock had fought in the East
Indies and Keppel fought off Ushant. He collected the result of his
inquiries and reflections in one of the most luminous books ever
written. It was so clear, indeed, that Adam Smith, with a respect for
the human intelligence somewhat startling in a philosopher, hesitated to
accept it all because it seemed to him so self-evidently true that he
thought the admirals must have seen it all long ago unless there had
been something against it which was obvious to their professional
knowledge. Their blindness was, however, due to other causes--to such
causes as prevented men of business from seeing those economic truths
which were thought out by Adam Smith himself. In 1780 this book existed
only in fragments printed for private circulation. These fragments were
given by Clerk to a Mr. Aitkinson, a friend of Rodney’s, in January of
1780, on a promise that they should be sent to the Admiral. Whether they
ever reached him we do not know. There is no evidence that they did, and
the evidence that they did not is purely negative. Clerk’s name and the
claims made for him will come up again. For the present, it is enough to
cite him as an example of what was working in men’s minds, and also
because one likes to do a little justice to an ingenious gentleman who
got firm hold of a truth, and has been carped at as a mere amateur by
some members of a profession which had forgotten that same truth, and
needed to be retaught.



At the end of March Rodney was at Gros Islet Bay in Santa Lucia with a
fleet of twenty-one sail of line-of-battle ships. His adversary Guichen
was at Fort Royal Bay in Martinique, some thirty miles off to the north,
with a force of twenty-three line-of-battle ships and two fifty-gun
ships--a class of vessels which held an intermediate position between
the liner and the frigate. Both admirals had their attendant swarm of
small craft. In spite of the superior numbers of the French, the fleets
were substantially equal. The French Government usually built its
vessels bigger and better than ours, and the calibre of its guns was
heavier. On the other hand Rodney had more three-deckers and
seventy-fours than his opponent. What advantage there was--and there was
some--was in favour of Guichen, but it was only just sufficient to
enhance the glory of beating him. The superiority or even the equality
of the Frenchman was somewhat of a surprise to Rodney, who expected to
find himself in greater force. He complained that he had not been kept
well informed by his Government of the movements of Guichen, who had
sailed from Europe shortly after he himself left for the relief of
Gibraltar, and had got to the West Indies first. There was doubtless
some ground for the complaint, but Rodney, who was just then rather
disposed to find fault, made the most of it. The position was certainly
not one which an admiral who believed in himself, as Rodney did, and
commanded an English fleet, need have considered unfavourable.

Whatever ground of complaint he might feel he had, Rodney was resolved
that there should be no shilly-shallying. On March 21st he turned into
Gros Islet Bay with the four ships he brought from Europe and joined the
seventeen already lying there under Sir Hyde Parker. One does not
clearly understand why Guichen, who was already at sea with his
twenty-three ships, allowed the junction to take place. He did, and then
returned to Fort Royal Bay. After spending less than a week in watering
his ships, and in settling matters of detail, Rodney got to sea on April
2nd, and paraded in defiance off the French harbour. It would have been
utterly contrary to the usual practice of the French admirals if Guichen
had come out for the mere purpose of fighting a battle. He would not
stir till he had an “ulterior object,” and so lay tight under the
protection of the shore batteries. Finding that his enemy would not
stir, Rodney returned to Gros Islet Bay, leaving look-out frigates on
the watch. By April 15th the French had settled a plan. There was a
convoy of merchant ships to be seen safe to San Domingo for one thing,
and for another it was decided to make a stroke at one of the English
islands. In this work Guichen had the zealous assistance of the then
Governor of Martinique, the famous Bouillé, that “quick, choleric,
sharply discerning, stubbornly endeavouring man,” who afterwards played
so great a part in the Revolution. The plan was to ship a body of troops
under Bouillé himself on board the war vessels, to stand northward with
the merchant ships in convoy, to see them off for San Domingo, and then,
by turning to windward between Martinique and Dominica, to beat up to
Barbadoes in the hope of mastering it before Rodney could come up from
Santa Lucia. Barbadoes was then full of French prisoners and prizes. The
scheme was most characteristic of French naval operations at that time.
It depended for success not on the previous beating of the English
fleet, but on luck in avoiding a battle at sea. Of course if the English
admiral behaved with common sense and energy he would catch the French
up before they got to Barbadoes, and then they must fight or run. In
either case there was an end of the scheme.

As a matter of fact it hardly even began to be put into execution. No
sooner were the French known to be under way than the English look-out
frigates were signalling the news to one another all along the thirty
miles of sea between Fort Royal and Gros Islet Bay. As soon as the
signal of the nearest frigate was seen by the look-out on Pigeon Island,
a great mass of rock which shuts in the anchorage, the order was given
to the English fleet to get up anchor. Without delay it stood out to
sea, stretching to the north along the coast of Martinique in pursuit of
the enemy. The French had slipped out by night, but Rodney judged that
they would endeavour to make for Barbadoes through the Dominica Channel,
and followed them hot foot. In the course of the 16th M. de Guichen’s
fleet was seen by the English to the north, endeavouring to turn to
windward between Dominica and Martinique about twenty-four miles to
westward of the Pearl Rock. In order to secure the power to force on a
battle, and also in order to bar the road to Barbadoes, Rodney worked to
windward. Before night he had succeeded in obtaining that commanding
position. It was too late to force on a battle, but during the darkness
the English fleet kept across the road of the French, whose movements
were keenly watched and immediately signalled by guns. The _Venus_ and
_Greyhound_ frigates patrolled the space dividing the enemies till

At sunrise, shortly after five o’clock, the two fleets were drawn up in
two lines of from six to seven miles long, heading both to the north.
The French were at a distance of some seven miles to westward and
leeward of the English. At a quarter to six the signal was given to form
the line of battle on the starboard tack at two cables’ length. With the
wind at east this would mean that the fleet was heading to the north.
The cable as a measure of length being about two hundred yards, and the
average length of a ship fifty-four, the line must have been something
under six miles long. Before we go down with Rodney into the very
inconclusive battle which was about to be fought, there are two facts
which it will be necessary to note. The first is, that the system of
signals then used in our fleet was most defective. There was no proper
general code. Every admiral had to make his own on taking command of his
squadron. It was not possible to do work requiring such minute finish
of detail as the formation of a code of signals in such circumstances.
Much was apt to be omitted. In Rodney’s own code, for instance, there
was then no signal by which a captain could make known that he did not
understand the admiral’s orders. One was supplied after the battle. The
second fact is this: at that time there existed a body of laws for the
fleet known as the Fighting Orders and the Additional Fighting
Instructions. These were not statements of the principles on which
battles should be fought, but recipes for fighting a battle. They bear
an almost comic resemblance to those cut-and-dried rules for painting a
picture to be found in old drawing-books, which tell men that grief is
expressed by pulling down the corners of the mouth, and pain by
wrinkling the forehead. Moreover, they were worded with the looseness of
an Act of Parliament. Such as they were, however, they were binding on
all captains unless direct orders to the contrary were given by the
admiral, who disregarded them at his peril, as had been shown in the
case of Rodney’s old chief, Mathews, who was broken by court-martial for
an offence against them, though he only did it to get at the enemy and
support the honour of the flag. With insufficient power to give orders,
and hampered by a competing authority, a British admiral was very liable
to find his fleet get out of hand. These same standing orders are
responsible for much of the pedantry of our fighting during a century.

Rodney had decided to break away from the old tradition by which our
admirals always endeavoured to fight van to van, centre to centre, and
rear to rear. He had resolved to throw the whole of his ships on a part
of the enemy. At a quarter to six he signalled that he meant to attack
the enemy’s rear. The most northerly ships of his own line were under
Rear-Admiral Rowley, one of the many of the name who have done much
respectable sea-fighting. He himself was in the centre with his flag in
the _Sandwich_. The rear, as the fleet was then sailing, was under the
command of Sir Hyde Parker; the stern-most ship of all being the
_Stirling Castle_, which was to be unenviably distinguished before the
day was out. Until about nine o’clock no opportunity presented itself of
making an attack, and the two fleets continued to stand to west of north
watching one another--the French waiting for an attack, the English
waiting for an opening. M. de Guichen had stretched his fleet well out,
“as if,” as Rodney scornfully put it, “he thought I was going to run
away.” At about nine Rodney saw a gap in the French line a few ships
astern of the admiral, the leading English ship being then apparently
about level with the leading Frenchman--and the last of the enemy, in
the loose order they were in, a good bit behind the last Englishman. At
once Rodney ordered the fleet to tack and steer for the enemy’s
rear--which, if the Frenchman had held on his course, would have thrown
the whole of the English ships on the last eight or nine of his line.
Guichen was too wary to be so caught. No sooner did he see the move of
the English admiral than up went his signals, and the ships of his
centre and van came round on their heel together and swept on to fill up
the gap. Then the ships which had been nearly cut off spun round also.
Resolute, as Wellington himself at Salamanca, not to strike till he
could do it with effect, Rodney hauled his wind, and the two fleets
resumed their attitude of observation, heading now to the south with
the wind on their port or left side, sailing nearly parallel with one
another. So they continued for rather over an hour, the French, as
before, too much extended, the English in a fairly compact line. At last
Rodney decided to make an opportunity. Shortly after ten o’clock he
reversed his order of march and went back again towards the north.
Guichen perhaps thought the English admiral meant to avoid a battle, and
was content to let him do so. He did not alter his own course, and now
the two fleets ran past one another, the French to the south, the
English to the north, with the wind on the beam. These opposite courses
were continued for half an hour, when Rodney for the second time came
round to the port tack, and headed to the south. The result of this
movement had been to bring the whole of the English force opposite the
rear third or half of the French. Again the two fleets stood on together
to the south for another hour. The English fleet had been slightly
disordered in the course of these movements; this or that vessel was out
of her place, the rear had to be ordered to make more sail to close the
centre. By midday all was in order and Rodney hoisted the signal to bear
down all together, and each to engage the ship opposite her on the
enemy’s line.

The order was obeyed in a manner which threw Rodney into a paroxysm of
rage. To him what ought to have been done was as clear as day. All his
ships should have borne down together, so that the whole twenty-one
would have come into action with a dozen or fifteen Frenchmen with every
chance of crushing them before Guichen’s van could turn to his
assistance. By ship opposite he meant the ship opposite at the moment,
but what was self-evident to him was by no means so to his captains, nor
to Parker, whose division was now leading. Brought up in the pedantic
old school, and steeped in the orthodox faith that van should engage
van, centre centre, and rear rear, they understood opposite ship to mean
ship occupying the same relative position in the enemy’s line. The order
to attack the rear they supposed only to apply to the movement made at
nine o’clock. So when Rodney and the ships astern of him which followed
the movements of their admiral turned west to fall on the French rear,
the ships ahead of him, utterly forgetting the order to keep at a
distance of two cables’ length from one another, and mindful only of the
pedantic old theory, kept on along the French line, headed by the
_Stirling Castle_, which went blindly on to put herself alongside the
leading French ship miles off. Rodney’s careful formation fell utterly
to pieces, and his scientifically prepared plan of attack was ruined.
His force, instead of being concentrated on a part of the enemy, was
scattered all along his line. In vain were signals hoisted on the
flag-ship. They were not understood by men whose minds were clouded by
preconceived notions--were perhaps not seen in the smoke gathering from
the cannon.

To Rodney it was now only left to do his own duty as a brave man. He
placed his ship at about a pistol shot from the nearest Frenchman, and
by furious cannonade drove him from the line. Even now he was
exasperated by further bungling and by downright misconduct. The
_Cornwall_, the ship immediately ahead, went too far from him. The
_Yarmouth_, the next ahead of the _Cornwall_, did worse. She first
stopped at too great a distance from the French, and then actually drew
out of action and lay to windward of the Admiral. This last piece of
misconduct Rodney did amend. First a signal, and then when it was not
obeyed a cannon shot fired into her, brought the _Yarmouth_ down to the
flag-ship’s quarter. There by the voice of the signal lieutenant, who,
standing by Rodney in the stern walk--the gallery outside the
cabin--roared at her through his speaking-trumpet, she got the order to
come into action again under the Admiral’s stern. But the battle had
gone to pieces. Nothing was left of it but a furious cannonade between
the rear divisions of the two fleets. Fortunately the French made no use
of the opportunity presented them by the confusion in the English line.
Some of them were crippled, others misunderstood orders. By three
o’clock many of them had fallen to leeward. M. de Guichen called off the
ships engaged to form a new line. Rodney, seeing that nothing effectual
could now be done, hauled down the signal for battle. The two fleets
separated--the French standing to the north, the English to the
south--and by night they were out of sight of one another. Even now the
confusion in the English fleet did not end, for during the darkness some
of the vessels were separated, and did not rejoin their admiral till
late next day.

The bitterness of this disappointment remained with Rodney as long as he
lived. He told Gilbert Blane that he was prouder of the plan he laid to
beat Guichen than of the actual victory he won over Grasse two years
later. On this latter occasion he owed something to fortune and much to
the enemy’s blunders. Grasse too was the inferior man. Had his orders
been obeyed on April 17th, Rodney felt that he would have won by pure
good management, and against an adversary who was a master swordsman.
This was the feeling of a genuine artist, and one cannot but sympathise
with the anger he felt and expressed. Guichen even had a fellow-feeling
for him, and wrote condoling with him on the bad support he had
received. For himself, so he said, he thought eight of his ships were
gone when he saw the beginning of the English attack. This letter, it is
almost unnecessary to say, is not mentioned by French historians, but we
have Rodney’s word for it; and nothing could be more in keeping with the
gallant, courtly manners of a time which retained the old faith that the
noble cavaliers who follow the honourable profession of arms are not the
less brothers and fellow-artists because they fight on opposite sides.
Rodney indicated his feelings sufficiently clearly in his public
letter--so clearly in fact that Sandwich thought it better to suppress a
paragraph. Even as it was published there could be no doubt what the
Admiral meant. He pointedly complimented Guichen on the support he had
received from his captains, and abstained severely from any praise of
his own subordinates. In private letters to Sandwich and to Lady Rodney
he was vehement in wrath and denunciation, declaring in so many words
that it was all a villainous plot to ruin him and discredit the
Administration. Something must be allowed here for natural heat and
something for gout. Rodney had already complained in bitter general
terms of the conduct of some of his captains in the fight with Don Juan
de Langara, when, if we are to judge by results, every man’s duty was
well done. We need not suppose there was any villainy or plot, but only
stupidity and routine. It is a fact which ought to be remembered that
the conduct of Parker and the captains in the van was partly justified
by the hidebound fighting orders. The fault of the failure rests more
with the neglect to form a proper code of signals, and the foolish
system which compelled an admiral to fight in chains imposed by standing

His sense of their conduct was not unknown to his captains, and one of
them actually complained to him and insisted on a court-martial. This
was Carkett of the _Stirling Castle_, the officer who led the van right
away from the centre. He drew upon himself an admirably worded and most
severe rebuke. No court-martial on him was ever held. Poor Carkett
perished in the dreadful hurricane which desolated the West Indies in
the following October. He was one of the officers from before the mast,
and had been the hero of a famous episode in the Seven Years’ War. At
that time he was first-lieutenant to Captain Gardiner in the _Monmouth_,
sixty-four, in Admiral Osborne’s squadron, which was blockading a French
force in Carthagena. One of the Frenchmen was the _Formidable_, eighty,
which had been the French flag-ship in the scandalous battle off
Minorca. Now Gardiner had been Byng’s flag-captain on that occasion, and
he had sworn to attack the big Frenchman whenever he met him, if it were
only in an open boat. The French squadron slipped to sea, were seen by
the English, and scattered in flight. Gardiner picked out the
_Formidable_ and followed her. Both sailed well, and had soon run the
other ships out of sight. Then the Frenchman, exasperated by the pursuit
of an enemy half his size, turned at bay. Gardiner was as good as his
word. He attacked in a masterly manner and with indomitable pertinacity.
Shortly after the action began he fell with a musket-shot in the head.
The wound was swiftly mortal, but while he could still speak he charged
Carkett to fight it out, to go down if he must with his colours flying,
but never to leave the Frenchman, or to strike. Carkett kept his charge
in the letter and the spirit. Metaphorically, or perhaps in heroic
reality, he nailed his colours to the mast, and fought till the
_Monmouth_ was a hulk, and the _Formidable_ was beaten to a standstill.
At last two of the slower sailing ships of the English squadron, guided
by the sound of the cannon, for the action had been carried on in the
night, came up, and the French captain struck. He insisted, however, on
surrendering his sword to Carkett; not to the senior captain of the two
new-comers. It is impossible to believe that such a man wanted courage
or loyalty. Indeed Rodney, even while rebuking him, fully recognised his
bravery and the quality of his former service.

The case of Bateman of the _Yarmouth_ was very different. He too had
risen from before the mast, but with no such record as Carkett. In the
action he had simply misbehaved, and it was not for the first time. The
_Yarmouth_ had been badly handled in Admiral Byron’s action off Grenada.
Bateman was court-martialed and dismissed the service at New York some
months later. In his case Rodney was implacable, and even allowed his
feelings to carry him into what the officers of the court-martial
thought undue interference and protested against with spirit. The
Admiral had to make something approaching an apology to the President
of the Court, Sir Chaloner Ogle. With this and one other exception there
were no courts-martial. Rodney knew that the Government was exceedingly
anxious to avoid any repetition of the scandals which had followed the
battle off Ushant. He did not himself wish to discredit the flag by
publishing details of misconduct. For the rest, though his teeth were
sharp, his bark was worse than his bite. In the course of these months
he tells his wife a story which shows that he was not implacable. A
certain Captain ---- had angered him by allowing his ship to get into a
bad condition. Rodney had resolved to suspend him, and had actually gone
on board with some hostile intentions. It happened that the captain’s
wife and daughters were staying on board. Now the girls were such nice
girls, and the mother was such an agreeable woman, and the whole family
was so amiable, that the Admiral’s heart bled at the thought of bringing
misery upon them. The old Adam of gallantry was too much for him. Rather
than bring tears into the eyes of those sweet girls he let the service
go for once, and contented himself with sending the ship home in charge
of a convoy. It was well for Captain ---- that his wife was above rubies,
and that he had such children to parley with the enemy at the gate. As a
rule, indeed, Rodney’s course was to get rid of captains whom he could
not trust by sending them on convoy so soon as reinforcements from
Europe enabled him to dispense with them.

The days immediately following the battle were spent in hard work.
Although he had missed victory Rodney was not beaten, and determined to
show the Frenchmen as much. He therefore resolutely kept the sea, and
barred their road to Fort Royal. The _Sandwich_ was so battered that for
twenty-four hours she was in danger of sinking. Rodney shifted his flag
to the _Montague_. The damage was repaired at sea. As the French, who
are driven to some straits to find victories at sea, have claimed April
17th as one, we may pardonably remind them that quiescence on the part
of their admiral seems to show they were as badly mauled as we were. On
the 20th, three days after the battle, the French reappeared to the
north, but on finding the English waiting for them, made off at once.
Guichen took his ships northward to the Dutch, and then neutral, island
of St. Eustatius, where he was able to refit, which does not look like
the conduct of an officer who felt conscious of superiority. After
cruising for a few days longer in sight of Martinique, to the no small
disturbance of the French colonists, Rodney, seeing that Guichen had
retreated, went south himself to Santa Lucia, leaving frigates to watch
Fort Royal. At Choque Bay he was able to get fresh water, to land his
sick and wounded, and to complete his repairs.

On May 6th the look-out frigates reported that the French had
reappeared; this time to the eastward of Martinique. Rodney at once put
to sea with nineteen line-of-battle ships and two of fifty guns, turning
to the windward of Santa Lucia by the north to meet the Frenchman. He
had now an opportunity of doing what he told his wife greatly needed to
be done--namely, of teaching his captains to be officers. “Every captain
in this fleet,” he once said to Gilbert Blane, “thinks himself fit to be
Prime Minister of Great Britain.” The Admiral was resolved to show them
that they should not disobey, or show a want of promptitude in obeying,
the orders of George Brydges Rodney. He set resolutely to work to bring
them to a proper degree of smartness. While he was manœuvring in
front of Guichen the days were passed in tacking in succession or
tacking together, in wearing in succession or together, in forming
column and forming line. Whenever a ship was out of her station her
signal was made, and she was publicly rebuked without regard to the
seniority of her captain, or to the fact that she carried an admiral’s
flag. Rodney even threatened to hoist his flag in a frigate in order to
observe the line from a distance the better. It is easy to understand
that such schooling was disagreeable to old captains who thought
themselves masters of their profession. Rodney’s second in command, Sir
Hyde Parker, a thorough seaman and solid fighter of the old stamp, was
wrought by it into a state of sullen fury. When he returned to England a
few months later he was with difficulty restrained by Sandwich from
rushing into a pamphleteering attack on his late commander. For the
present, however, there was nothing for it but obedience. At the end of
a few days the lesson had been taught, and the English squadron
manœuvred with the precision of Frederick’s grenadiers. Rodney might
have found a more excellent way. If he had had more of the kindly
good-fellowship of Nelson, if he had been wont to talk things over and
explain his ideas to his captains, to get the wild ducks out after
dinner and work out problems, it might have been better for his glory.
But this was not Rodney’s way. He lived apart from his captains, whom he
generally regarded as his social inferiors--neither asking for their
friendship nor giving them his--asking only for that implicit obedience
which he was ready to render to his own official superiors. As a natural
consequence he got obedience, but he won none of that loyal devotion
which bound Collingwood, or Hallowell, or Hoste to Nelson. His relations
to his subordinates were always strained. They knew that he expected
them to act only on his order, therefore they would do just what they
were ordered and nothing more. He could never shut up his signal-book as
Nelson could, with the confidence that he had instilled his spirit into
his captains and could trust them to act in it. On Rodney’s part,
however, it is only fair to remember that the relations of Nelson to his
captains were exceptional, and would not have been possible unless he
had been absolutely sure of their spirit of discipline. In the American
War the bonds of discipline required to be tightened, and Rodney did
well to tighten them. To say that he could not temper command by
good-fellowship, that he could order but could not inspire, is to say
that he had not the genial temperament of the very greatest stamp of
leader, of a Nelson or of a Gustavus Adolphus, to whom, king as he was,
all soldiers were brothers, who knew that his personal influence would
give him all the superiority he wanted. To that race Rodney did not

The second phrase, as the fencing men would say, of the duel with
Guichen was pure manœuvring on both sides--mere doubling and
disengaging. The Frenchman, who had the advantage of the wind when they
met, took care not to lose it, and though he had a distinct superiority
in number of ships, would not force on a battle. According to the
French historians it was the English admiral who avoided action. It does
not seem to strike them as absurd that, if it were so, Guichen did not
bear down, and either force him to stand, or chase him ignominiously
into Santa Lucia, as on this supposition he could have done. The facts
show that Guichen was by no means anxious for a close fight. He would
come down in line of battle to just out of gunshot, and there parade in
defiance much as a mischievous boy might flaunt a red rag at a bull from
the safe side of a fence; but so soon as the English seemed to be coming
into striking distance the French worked up to windward at once. “They
kept,” said Rodney, “an awful distance.” It was a somewhat risky game,
for the fence was not quite permanent. Though the trade wind blows from
the east it does not blow always from the same point of east, and a
slight shift in it might enable Rodney to get to windward. Once it did
give him the chance, but only for a moment. Then it dropped back and the
Frenchman slipped off. During the fortnight in which the two fleets were
zigzagging in front of one another, the Frenchman always breaking
measure, to take to fencing language again, so soon as the English were
within lunging distance, there were two partial actions, one on the 15th
the other on May 19th. On one if not on both of these occasions the
English fleet could have forced on a battle by steering into the rear of
the French line, and so cutting off the last three or four ships. If
this had been done Guichen must either have left his tail behind him
like the lizard, or have fought a real battle. But Rodney was not
prepared to break away from the old system of tactics as yet. He could
only use it with more tactical judgment than his contemporaries. These
actions, therefore, presented no particular novelty, and were thoroughly
feeble. At last the two fleets separated by mutual consent. Both were in
fact in a very bad condition. The use of copper sheathing was only
coming in among ourselves. The French had not begun to use it. Ships,
being unprotected against barnacles and worms, grew rapidly foul and
leaky. Some of Rodney’s were in an almost sinking state, and Guichen’s
were not in better case. Finally, the admirals were glad enough to
separate, and return to port on May 21st. Guichen steered for Fort Royal
round the north end of Martinique, Rodney sent three ships into Santa
Lucia, and then made his way with the bulk of his fleet to Barbadoes, in
order to be on the spot if the French should persevere in their designs
on that island.

Practically this was the end of the measuring of swords between Rodney
and Guichen. There was no further fighting or attempts to fight among
the Lesser Antilles that year. Hardly had Rodney reached Carlisle Bay in
Barbadoes before he received news which materially altered the position.
It was brought by Captain Mann of the _Cerberus_, who, while cruising
off Cadiz early in the month, had sighted a large convoy under the
protection of a squadron of line-of-battle ships steering to the west.
He followed them in the hope of cutting off one of the merchant ships,
and so learning more about them. The enemy was too vigilant, but he saw
enough to convince him that this was a Spanish force on its way to the
West Indies. Captain Mann used his discretion in the right way. He left
his station and hurried with the news to the Antilles. Soon other
messages to the same effect arrived from Commodore Johnstone’s squadron
on the coast of Portugal. Rodney made all possible haste to sea and
resumed his cruising to windward of Martinique. But the Spanish
commander, Don Jose Solano, was a more capable man than Langara. He had
foreseen the possibility that the English might be at sea on this
station, and therefore steered farther to the north so as to enter by
the Saints’ Passage between Dominica and Guadaloupe. Then he anchored in
Prince Rupert’s Bay in Dominica, and there waited to be joined by
Guichen. The meeting was effected, and the force of the enemy thereby
raised to thirty-six line-of-battle ships. It was hopeless to attempt an
attack on such a force, and Rodney made at once for Gros Islet Bay in
Santa Lucia. He moored his fleet under the protection of batteries, and
fortified Pigeon Island. The measure was destined to be the salvation of
the station in the next year, but for the present its worth was not put
to the test. The Spaniards were as usual much more a hindrance than a
help to their allies. They had the plague on board, and were dying like
sheep with the rot, or as they say themselves--say with less than their
habitual felicity of expression--_como chinchas_, which, saving the
reader’s reverence, are bugs. This great force therefore did nothing.
Don Jose was so cowed by the wretched state of his squadron that he
insisted on being convoyed to San Domingo by Guichen. From thence he
made the best of his way to Havannah. No wonder that French and English
naval officers alike prayed that they might have the Spaniard as an
enemy but never as a friend. As soon as he had seen his burdensome
allies well into the Bahama Channel, Guichen, who knew that his
squadron was worn out and saw the hurricane months close on him, left
the West Indies. After touching on the coast of the insurgent colonies
he, to the bitter disappointment of the rebels, insisted on sailing for
Europe. The West Indies were thus practically clear of enemies.

In the meantime Rodney had been waiting for the attack which never came.
Early in July he was reinforced by a squadron from England under the
command of Captain Walsingham, but it was now too late to do anything.
The hurricane months were just beginning. A very rude rhyme has been
formed to aid the mariner’s memory, and it limits the hurricane season
with reasonable accuracy--

    June too soon,
    July stand by,
    August look out you must,
    September remember,
    October all over.

In this July Rodney decided to leave waters in which nothing could now
be done. He sent the trading ships, which had collected for convoy, to
Europe under charge of Sir Hyde Parker and those of his captains whom he
desired might be better strangers to him in future. Rowley and
Walsingham were ordered to Jamaica. The safety of the Lesser Antilles
was provided for sufficiently, and then he sailed for Sandy Hook himself
with ten line-of-battle ships and a frigate.

The campaign of 1780 had done nothing to diminish the reputation Rodney
had gained by the relief of Gibraltar. He was not held responsible for
the failure to win on April 17th, or the subsequent failure to force
Guichen into close action in May. Although what fighting there had been
was but indecisive, the substantial results were considerable. All
attacks on the English islands had been stopped, and although no
effective counter-stroke had been delivered at the French, yet we had
remained masters of the field of battle at the end in spite of the
enemy’s superior numbers. To be sure the sufferings of the Spaniards
from the plague had helped us materially, but they were the consequences
of a dirty inefficiency in our foes which would one day, when
opportunity and faculty combined, give us a decisive victory. At home,
therefore, Rodney’s fame was great. He was being sung into immortality
by ballad-mongers. His lady was highly complimented by the King in
frequent Drawing-room. Other rewards of a more substantial kind were not
wanting. When the thanks of the House were voted him for the relief of
Gibraltar, his friends had, with more zeal than judgment, moved that the
King should be petitioned to grant him a pension. With almost incredible
want of taste they made much of the Admiral’s notorious pecuniary
embarrassments. The motion was opposed by North as irregular, and even
indecent. It was certainly unnecessary. A pension with remainder to his
children was granted, and would certainly in any case have been granted
by the King.



Rodney’s decision to go to New York was not a hasty one. It was part of
a scheme which had long matured in his mind. When he was applying for
command during the summer and autumn of 1778 he had written several
papers to Sandwich, giving his views of the principles on which the
naval war should be conducted by us in the West Indies and on the coast
of North America. They show a power of looking at warlike operations as
a whole, and a sense of the vital importance of plan and aim which cause
some doubt whether the Admiralty made the best use it could of his
services when it appointed him to a command at sea. The capital defect
of our management at that time was precisely the want of coherence in
our operations which Rodney could have supplied. If instead of sending
him to the West Indies the Government had given him the post which was
to have been held by Collingwood, and was actually filled by Lord Keith
in Napoleon’s time--if it had named him commander-in-chief with his
headquarters at Portsmouth, and had given him a general control over the
movements of squadrons--we might have been the poorer for one great
victory, but our navy would have been used with a definiteness of aim
which was conspicuously wanting in fact. This, however, could not be,
and the next best post was the one he actually held. In the West Indies
Rodney was at hand to help our commanders on the American coast. His
plan was to act against the French in the Antilles during the spring and
early summer with vigour enough to keep them well employed, then, when
the hurricane months made cruising too dangerous in the West Indies, to
proceed to the North American coast, and there, uniting all available
forces, to strike hard at the insurgents. If the French followed they
might be forced to fight a battle.

Acting on this plan Rodney sailed from the Antilles in July. He took
this step on his own responsibility, though he had good general reason
for believing that it would be approved. In this he was not mistaken.
Sandwich highly approved, observing with much truth that unless His
Majesty’s officers would “take the great line” nothing effectual would
ever be done. He was right; but unfortunately it was somewhat difficult
for His Majesty’s officers to take the great line effectually with such
forces as they were supplied with and such inspiration as they received
from home. Our military forces were ridiculously inadequate to the work
they had to do, and were moreover divided as if to make the utmost of
their weakness. Clinton was holding on to New York with one half of the
army. Cornwallis and the other half were fighting in the Southern States
with a valour, skill, and success which, ungrateful people that we are,
we have too much forgotten. United under Cornwallis our army might have
done something. Divided it could only stand at bay, or at best carry on
a guerrillero warfare which might be, and was, brilliantly successful
for a time, but was none the less doomed to be futile in the long run.
Rodney could do nothing to remedy the defective management of the land
forces. He had little chance to use his squadrons with effect. The
departure of Guichen had made it impossible for the enemy to keep the
sea. Their squadron which did remain on the coast kept close in Rhode
Island Harbour, where it had the protection of powerful batteries and of
an American force. Clinton declined to co-operate in an attack, alleging
that the enemy’s works were too strong, and that the time had gone by in
which anything could be effected against them. He laid the blame of
failure to act sooner on Arbuthnot, the admiral on the station.
Arbuthnot attributed it to the sloth and stupidity of Clinton. There was
a great deal to be said on both sides, for the soldier though brave, now
and then active, and a “good drill,” was a wooden personage; and the
sailor, though no one ever questioned his courage, and he was doubtless
able to manage a ship, was a quarrelsome, narrow-minded, selfish man.
Rodney could do little except comment on the miserable management of the
war and stimulate the activity of our cruisers against the Yankee
privateers. He was moreover in ill health himself--compelled to remain
much on shore at New York, complaining bitterly of the damp and cold of
the climate. His presence in irresistible force on the coast served to
depress the rebels, then at the lowest point of their fortune. Nothing,
however, was done, or could be done, to really weaken the immense
essential strength of the American position.

The sad truth is, that the chief outcome of his presence on the station
was a violent quarrel with Arbuthnot. This officer, who was his inferior
in rank, resented his arrival from the West Indies deeply. He thought it
mean in a brother admiral to come and spoil the fun--to come, in plain
words, and take the prize-money. A miserable interest of the pocket was
at the bottom of this as of so many naval quarrels. To the good of the
public service Arbuthnot seems never to have given a thought. All he
cared to see was that the arrival of a senior officer on the station
would deprive him of the commander-in-chief’s share of every prize.
Indeed he had very soon practical demonstration of this unpleasant
truth. Shortly after Rodney’s arrival one of the frigates which he had
taken over from Arbuthnot captured a vessel laden with arms and stores
for the rebels. The admiral’s share of the prize-money was £3000, and
that Rodney pocketed with punctuality and despatch, thereby driving
Arbuthnot into an explosion of fury worthy of Hawser Trunnion. Rodney’s
own view is given by himself in a letter to Jackson the Secretary of the
Admiralty. He points out that if he had looked to money only he might
have made a lucrative cruise on the Spanish main, but “tho’ the hand of
adversity and the base ingratitude of individuals had learnt me the
value of Riches, it has not, or ever shall, eradicate from my mind the
Duty I owe my King and Country.” He would not cruise for money only, but
if in the fair way of duty he came where money was, he would take every
sixpence to which he had a right. Arbuthnot was sulky and rude. He made
difficulties and sent home complaints; but he had to deal with a man
who was resolute to be obeyed. “I find myself, my dear Sir,” wrote
Rodney again to Jackson, “a Butt for Envy and Mallice. I had rather have
Envy than Pity. I will go on and endeavour by exerting myself in the
Service of my King and Country to deserve more Envy and more Mallice. It
cannot hurt me for I am resolved to do my Duty, and no Rank whatever
shall screen any officer under me who does not do his Duty. The Good,
the Worthy, the truly Brave officer will love and Honour me, others are
unworthy my notice. All shall be treated like gentlemen, and none under
my command shall ever have reason to tax me with Disrespect to them; but
I will be the Admiral.” This, as Sandwich might have said, was “the
great line.” Rodney was in the right, and was supported by ministers. If
their support had gone to the length of superseding Arbuthnot it would
have been the better for the public service in the following year.

A quarrel about money affords a convenient opportunity for reverting to
Rodney’s own financial position. It had been materially bettered at the
expense of the enemies of his King and country. His letters to his wife
during these months contain satisfactory references to the speed with
which his prize-money was enabling him to clear off the worst of his
debts and provide for his family. There was another purpose for which
funds were greatly needed. When he sailed at the end of 1779 Rodney had
told his wife that a naval officer who wished for proper support must
have a seat in Parliament. So soon, therefore, as the first creditors
were satisfied--none, let us hope, were paid sooner than the
Drummonds--he forwarded funds to Sandwich for the purchase of a seat.
By the decision of his friend, apparently, he was put up for
Westminster, and Sandwich was able to inform him in September that the
funds having come to hand in time, “the free and independent” had duly
returned him at the head of the poll. It is curious that he, a
thorough-going supporter of the Administration and a “King’s friend,”
stood with Fox, the bitterest of all the critics of Lord North’s
Cabinet, who was destined to be a member of the very Ministry which
recalled Rodney himself from the West Indies in 1782 with contumely.

At the close of 1781 he sailed again for the West Indies, and arrived
early in December after a stormy passage. During his absence the station
had been swept by one of the most dreadful hurricanes on record. It
burst on October 10th, when, according to sea lore, it ought to have
been “all over.” Not only was it late, but it was far-reaching.
Barbadoes had been supposed to lie beyond the track of the hurricane,
but this year it was terribly smitten. Plantations were desolated, and
the very fortifications were blown down. The other islands were no more
fortunate, and a whole squadron of war-ships was cast away or so
shattered as to need a complete refit. The French islands suffered as
severely as our own. The greatness of the disaster cowed both sides for
a time into fellow-feeling. Spanish prisoners at Barbadoes exerted
themselves “like friends” to help their captors, and were effusively
thanked by the Governor. Bouillé, at Martinique, sent back some
shipwrecked English seamen, declaring that he could not consider the
victims of such a misfortune as prisoners of war.

This subdued mood could not last. Rodney was not likely to allow himself
to be stopped by sentiment. In December he had his squadron in good trim
again. He decided to see whether an effective stroke could not be
delivered at the French. St. Vincent seemed to present an opportunity.
The island was reported to have suffered seriously from the hurricane,
and the fortifications were said to be entirely ruined. As the island
lies directly to the south of Santa Lucia, and had been taken from us by
the French early in the war, the temptation to attempt something on it
was irresistible. A body of troops, under General Vaughan, was embarked
on the squadron, and the combined force went south in good hope. But the
expedition was a failure. The reports as to the damage done by the
hurricane turned out to have been grossly exaggerated. The
fortifications were found to be intact, and far too strong to be taken
except by regular siege, for which Vaughan had neither men nor
battering-train. After a few days’ stay on shore the soldiers were
re-embarked, and the squadron returned to Gros Islet Bay.

Its stay here was not long. Reinforcements were coming, and there was
work of a tempting kind to be done. The reinforcements included the
prizes Rodney himself had taken from the Spaniards. We had sheathed them
in copper, and they were among the finest ships afloat. Samuel Hood, who
has been named as having served under Rodney in the attack on Havre as
captain of the _Vestal_ twenty-two years earlier, and had just been
promoted rear-admiral, was in command. He had been expressly chosen in
the hope, which was not to be disappointed, that he would prove a
capable second. Samuel Francis Drake, who was as yet only commodore, but
was soon to be rear-admiral, was third. Captain Edmund Affleck came
next to them in seniority. The names of these three will be found
conspicuous during the remainder of Rodney’s fighting. Hood arrived in
January, 1781, and in that month there came also orders to set about a
piece of work which Rodney undertook in joy and hope, not foreseeing
that it was destined to prove to him the source of infinite worry, of
bitter attacks, of loss of credit, and of loss of lawsuits, which
reduced him in his old age to the poverty which he had just shaken off.

Owing to a variety of causes which do not directly interest us, Holland
had been drawn into the war. Orders, dated December 20th, came out to
Rodney and to General Vaughan to seize the island of St. Eustatius,
which, with St. Martin and Saba, belonged to the Dutch.

To quite understand all the enterprise was destined to mean to Rodney,
it is necessary to take into account the position of St. Eustatius. This
island, with its even less favoured sisters St. Martin and Saba, is
little better than a mass of barren rock. It lies far up in the Lesser
Antilles between Barbuda and Santa Cruz, just north-west of our own
island of St. Christopher or St. Kitts. As it has little native wealth,
the Dutch with their usual good business faculty made a free port of it,
hoping that traders glad to be free from the severe colonial trade
legislation of those days would use it as an open mart. They were not
disappointed, and the island had always had a kind of prosperity as a
place of exchange. The outbreak of the rebellion in the plantations gave
an immense impulse to its industry. When direct trade with the insurgent
plantations was stopped it was very soon found by both sides that this
measure of hostility had its inconveniences. If, for instance,
Americans were not to be allowed to export cotton and tobacco to punish
them for rebellion, Englishmen could only inflict the castigation by
depriving themselves of tobacco and cotton. The West Indies were nearly
touched by a cessation of trade, for the planters were in the habit of
importing the maize and bacon on which they fed their slaves from the
North American plantations. If they were deprived of these the slaves
would starve; if the slaves starved the islands would be ruined; if the
islands were ruined the loss to England would be enormous. Our fathers,
though high-spirited, were practical men. Patriotic emotion and the
unity of the Empire were good, but they must not, it was spontaneously
felt, be made to mean the loss of cheap cotton, the second qualities of
snuff, good pipe tobacco, and the sugar trade. A compromise had to be
made between our principles and our necessities. It was found by
granting permission for the importation of American produce through St.
Eustatius. The inevitable result was to throw the whole trade between
England or her West Indian Islands and the plantations into the
market-place of St. Eustatius. The island sprang for a day into the
prosperity of Tyre and Sidon. There the English merchant and the West
Indian planter met the Yankee trader, and they dealt with one another.
There, too, they met and traded with the men of the French islands with
whom they could no longer directly deal. Vast rows of warehouses arose
like mushrooms and were rented for immense sums. Alongside of this trade
there arose another. Given the natural inclination of mankind to sell in
the dearest market, it was inevitable that a great business in
contraband of war should be carried on in such a favoured spot. St.
Eustatius became in fact what our own island of Nassau in the Bahamas
was during the American Civil War--a depot for the articles classed
under that name. Finally, it may be noted that great numbers of our own
West Indian planters and merchants, particularly those of St. Kitts,
endeavoured to secure their goods from the risk of capture by the French
by storing them in a neutral island.

In fact the place was as useful to us as it could be to our enemies. But
when war broke out with Holland it was decided to seize upon it as a
matter of course. To Rodney no order could be more agreeable. He had
long regarded St. Eustatius with particular hatred as the place from
which our enemies drew most of their stores, and also as the place in
which traitors to their King and country were base enough to trade with
rebels. The opportunity for an attack was very good. The Spaniards were
either lying at Havannah or wasting themselves in petty attacks on our
garrisons in Florida. Only four French line-of-battle ships were at Fort
Royal. On January 30th Rodney, having shipped a force of soldiers under
General Vaughan, sailed from Gros Islet Bay. After passing in front of
Fort Royal, he left Drake with six ships to watch the Frenchman and
steered directly for St. Eustatius. The place was surrounded on February
3rd, summoned, and taken at once. The Dutch governor, Graaf, having no
soldiers and no forts, could only surrender at discretion. Rodney, who
had had a sharp passage of arms with him before concerning a salute
fired to the Yankee flag, had a particular joy in receiving his
submission, and, it must be acknowledged, treated the poor man in a
very high and mighty manner. The disasters of the Dutch did not end
here. A convoy of one hundred and thirty sail had left a few days before
under the protection of a ship of sixty guns. It was followed by two
seventy-fours and a frigate, which easily seized it all after a very
brief action in which the Dutch admiral, Krull, was killed, fighting at
hopeless odds for the honour of the flag.

So far all seemed well. The booty taken was estimated at the magnificent
figure of three millions sterling. Rodney announced that everything
taken should be at the King’s mercy. The news was sent home at once, and
received with much huzzaing and throwing up of caps. A great blow had
been struck at the low-minded Dutch, and the people rejoiced therefore.
Lady Rodney and Sandwich hastened to tell the Admiral how delighted
everybody was with him. The King resigned all his rights to the officers
of his sea and land service. A great cry of rage and disappointment went
up from the French islands and the rebellious colonies, which was meat
and drink to Rodney. For some time his letters are literally
overpowering with triumph over the splendid blow he had struck at the
enemies of his country and the traitors who dealt with them. But the
somewhat of bitter which is proverbially seldom absent from human joys
was soon found to be mixed with this cup also. In the fire of his zeal
Rodney had been neither to bind nor to hold. He had confiscated immense
quantities of property belonging to British subjects--to the planters of
St. Kitts in particular. He had forgotten that the King could neither
take nor give away more than his right. The letter in which George the
Third resigned all his own claims contained a clause specially
exempting the property of his subjects engaged in legitimate trade from
seizure. It would have been well for Rodney’s happiness if he had paused
to think what those words meant. It would have been well too for his
reputation if he had remembered how careful it behoved a man, whose
friends had paraded his poverty in the House of Commons, to be before he
laid hands on money. He thought of nobody and nothing except the joy of
trouncing enemies and traitors, and the happiness of at last getting
prize-money enough to wipe all debt off, and leave something for his
dear children.

In this frame of mind he remained for some time. When the planters of
St. Kitts sent their attorney-general to state their case, he refused,
rash man, to discuss the matter with a lawyer. The profession was amply
avenged, for Rodney had to listen to many lawyers in the Admiralty
Court, of which he appears to have totally forgotten the existence until
reminded by writs. The Jews, who abounded in the island, were stripped
to the skin and sent packing. The Dutch had surrendered at discretion,
and were treated after the manner of Alaric. To the French, who were
open enemies, Rodney showed more consideration. They were allowed to go
with bag and baggage. Bouillé, who was furious, wrote angry letters, and
he and Rodney, as Burke put it, defied one another in the highest style
of chivalry. In this respect, however, Rodney’s conduct was, in
diplomatic phrase, perfectly correct, and he stuck stoutly to his guns.
Correct also was his conduct in respect to the naval stores, in spite of
the charges brought against him later on. He sent them all to the
King’s arsenals. As for the other goods, with the exception of a very
small part which was returned to English owners, they were sold _sub
hasta_. The island, in the words of the _Annual Register_, “became one
of the greatest auctions that ever was opened in the universe.” All
comers, except the late owners, were permitted to bid, and the goods
were knocked down to the highest bidder--often, such was the glut in the
market, at a third or quarter of their price. The buyers were permitted
to take them away subject to a few restrictions imposed to prevent the
transport of provisions to the French islands. The money was stored
partly in the flag-ship, partly in the island, which was to be
fortified, and provided with a garrison. What goods could not be sold,
or were likely to prove more profitable in England, were laden on a
great convoy, which was to have sailed under the command of Affleck, and
did actually sail under Hotham. At this work Rodney remained till the
beginning of May.

It is impossible, I am afraid, to acquit the Admiral of great want of
judgment, and, what is worse, of inability to resist the temptation to
look after his own pocket too eagerly, in the whole course of this
transaction. His folly in taking upon himself to decide what was and
what was not lawful prize was of course glaring. It carried its own
punishment. Every man who knew he had a case brought an action against
him in the Admiralty Court. One after another they went against him, and
he was compelled to refund. What made this the more disastrous for him
was, that the great convoy from which he hoped for so much fell into the
hands of La Motte Picquet, who was cruising at the mouth of the
Channel, and was almost wholly carried into Brest. The island of St.
Eustatius was retaken by Bouillé, and immense booty lost there. Rodney
had therefore to satisfy the claims of the suitors out of the remnants
of his prizes and his other means. The drain left him a poor man to the
end of his days. His family biographer, who has given a narrative of
these events marked by judicious suppressions, complains that the
Admiral was deserted by his official superiors. Some English merchants
whom Rodney sent home as prisoners to be tried for unlawful dealings
with the rebels were, it seems, released at once in England, and their
books, alleged to be full of criminating evidence, were quietly returned
by Lord George Germaine, the Secretary of State. But Rodney ought to
have remembered that in any case it would rest with ministers to decide
whether the accused men were to be tried for treason or not, and that it
was mad in him to act as if they had been actually tried and condemned.
I am afraid that zeal for the public service cannot be successfully
pleaded in his defence. This could have been provided for by keeping the
goods under lock and key till they were adjudicated on. Besides, the
ugly fact remains that Rodney sold the goods for the benefit of himself
and the other captors. It is true that he afterwards declared he had no
idea they would be given up by the King. But this was said in the House
of Commons, and can, to speak frankly, only be accepted as true in a
Parliamentary sense. Rodney cannot possibly have been ignorant that in
such cases the King commonly did resign his rights. The course he took
can only be made intelligible by supposing that his hatred of the
rebels, combined with the prospect of escaping for ever from poverty,
overpowered his common sense.

The results of the capture of St. Eustatius were evil for his fame
directly and indirectly. The attacks made on him in Parliament will be
dealt with later on. We need not pay much attention, or any indeed, to
the charges brought against him by French historians. It is amusing to
note the unction with which the countrymen of Napoleon’s marshals lift
their hands in horror over the misdeeds of the British Admiral. But in
Rodney’s own fleet the effect was bad, and it is certain that, till he
left the West Indies in July, the course of events was unfavourable to
England. There exists a series of letters from Hood to Jackson of the
Admiralty, begun about this time, which is painful reading. From it we
can only conclude that Hood, brave man and brilliant officer as he was,
was guilty of the meanest backbiting, or that Rodney forgot duty and
honour alike in his eagerness to collect the booty. If the accuser is to
be believed, the Admiral went very near repeating the famous trick
attributed to Sir Henry Morgan the Buccaneer, who, it is said, persuaded
his fellow “brothers of the coast” to entrust him with all their booty,
and then ran away with it. Rodney, said Hood, carried vast sums of money
to his flag-ship, and never rendered any account of them. Alongside of
this, minor charges such as that Rodney would not allow his subordinate
to write home, in order that people might be kept in ignorance of what
was going on, sink into insignificance. All this may be discounted, for
naval men, though a heroic race, pay their tribute to human weakness
like others. They are sadly addicted to grumbling and, as Rodney
himself said later on, naturally censorious. Hood, however, did not
speak only for himself. What he thought was thought by others. There
never was any open breach between the men. Hood always obeyed orders
punctually, but their mutual civility thinly covered a very genuine

It cannot be honestly denied that the course of events did often justify
the criticisms of Hood. Shortly after the capture of St. Eustatius,
Rodney was informed from home that a great French armament was preparing
at Brest for the West Indies. It was to be commanded by Grasse. The
Admiral at once sent Hood to take command off Fort Royal, raising the
blockading force at the same time to fifteen sail of the line and five
frigates. The object was to prevent the junction of the four ships in
the port with the fleet coming from Europe. At a later period, when he
was assailed in Parliament for not going to Martinique, Rodney justified
his decision to remain at St. Eustatius by saying that Hood was as fit
to command as he was himself. In the course of the blockade he had
occasion to commend his subordinate highly for the sagacity he showed in
refusing to be decoyed off his station by a false report of the
appearance of the enemy elsewhere. Unfortunately he did not draw from
Hood’s fitness the obvious deduction that he ought to be left to fight
in his own way if he was to be left in command. He yielded to what for
some men is the irresistible temptation to direct operations from a
distance. Napoleon was in this sort a notable sinner, and in his as in
all cases this interference was the mother of confusion which is the
mother of failure. Only the man on the spot can tell what ought to be
done at the moment, and he cannot act with effect if his hands are to be
tied by a distant superior who does not know the facts.

In this case there was certainly failure, and, what is worse, failure
foretold by Hood. He wrote to Rodney pointing out that the set of wind
and current to the west made it very difficult for him to keep close to
Fort Royal. An enemy coming from the eastward could, he said, hug the
coast of Martinique, and slip into Fort Royal in spite of him. He
therefore asked leave to cruise to windward of the island, where he
would be on the track of Grasse and in a position to compel him either
to fight a decisive battle or to give up the attempt to reach Fort
Royal. The leave was refused. Rodney expressed a fear that the four
ships in the harbour would slip out and attack our possessions, or,
which had been even worse, might fall on him at St. Eustatius. The fear
seems to me exaggerated. Even if the operations of the French had been
bolder than they usually were, it was not likely that they would risk
four ships in the middle of twenty at a time when they knew that
reinforcements were coming. Hood bitterly jeered in his letters at the
Admiral’s fear for his plunder.

Whatever Rodney’s motives may have been, the misfortune which Hood had
foretold actually happened on April 28th. Grasse turned up to the north
of Martinique with twenty sail of the line and a great convoy. Hugging
the land closely he slipped along the shore inside of the English
squadron. Hood had been reinforced and could dispose of nineteen sail,
but he was to leeward in the westerly current and the treacherous light
breezes which prevail under the land. He could not work up to windward.
Grasse was joined by the four ships in Fort Royal, which gave him a
great superiority of force. There followed on the 29th and 30th two days
of confused and distant fighting. The French admiral declared that the
English admiral ran away. The English admiral asserted in good set terms
that the bragging Frenchman would not come down like a man. After an
immense outlay of powder and shot, Hood, finding that the enemy had
united his forces, that one of his own ships was in a sinking state, and
that all were in want of stores, gave up the now impossible blockade,
and hastened to join Rodney in the north.

With this misfortune all our superiority of position and numbers
vanished away. Rodney was thoroughly savage, and hinted pretty
intelligibly that Hood had manœuvred so as to fulfil his own
prophecy--a monstrous charge, which he did not venture to press. It is
to be hoped for his honour that his conscience pricked him. Whether he
or Hood was right as to the best way of meeting Grasse, there can, I
should imagine, be only one opinion on the question whether his conduct
during these months was worthy of his renown or of his actions before
and afterwards. At a time when a great hostile force was approaching the
station committed to his care, the proper place for an English admiral
was at sea and at the head of his fleet. He should not have remained on
shore with the auctioneer’s hammer in his hand superintending the sale
of his booty amid surroundings redolent of the redoubted Sir Henry
Morgan. His health was indeed bad, but it did not prevent him from
putting to sea when informed of the arrival of Grasse. Besides, if it
had been so shaken as to make him incapable of command, he was all the
more bound not to interfere with the officer whom he left in the post of
danger and honour. On the whole, one has to come back to the view that
Rodney’s eyes had been dazzled and his better nature corrupted for the
time by the fairy gold poured out before him at St. Eustatius.

During the two and a half months which remained before the return of the
hurricane season everything went wrong. The English admirals met on May
9th between Montserrat and Antigua. It was necessary to take Hood’s
battered ships into harbour in the latter island to refit. While they
were so occupied the French were busy. Grasse was, no doubt, a less wary
and skilful tactician than Guichen. He had faults of character which
proved his ruin--faults which may be all collected under that
untranslatable French word _suffisance_; but he was a clever officer. In
Bouillé he had an ally of extraordinary energy. The two combined to
carry out an aggressive campaign against our islands. While Rodney was
refitting at Antigua, a double expedition sailed from Fort Royal. The
larger part, under Grasse and Bouillé, was to attempt the recapture of
Santa Lucia; the smaller, under a M. de Blanchelande, was to go south to
Tobago. The attack on Santa Lucia failed, thanks, in part, to Rodney’s
foresight in fortifying Pigeon Island; thanks also to the accidental
arrival of several English frigates, whose captains landed their men to
reinforce the garrison. Bouillé disembarked his soldiers and attacked in
his usual fiery style, but our fortifications round Gros Islet Bay were
too strong, and the guns on Pigeon Island kept the French fleet off.
Finding that the island could not be mastered so soon as they expected,
Grasse and Bouillé re-embarked their men, and followed Blanchelande to

In the meantime Rodney was hurrying south from Antigua. He was met at
sea by news of the retreat of the French from Santa Lucia, but did not
learn their course. Concluding that they would probably steer for
Barbadoes, which had not yet recovered the effects of the great
hurricane, he hastened there at once. On his arrival he was greeted by a
despatch from Captain Fergusson, the Governor of Tobago, reporting the
appearance of Blanchelande with the smaller French expedition.
Rear-Admiral Drake was at once sent off with six sail to help defend the
island. Soon after he had gone came news that the whole French fleet was
on its way to Tobago. For a time there was great fear for Drake, but he
discovered his danger in time and avoided it by speedy retreat. When he
had rejoined the Admiral, the whole English force sailed for Tobago, and
arrived in time to be too late. After a gallant resistance, Fergusson,
who was well supported by the planters, had been compelled to surrender.

Rodney found the French at sea, standing to the north along the string
of little islands called the Grenadines, between Grenada and St.
Vincent. They were somewhat superior in force, but he expressed his
readiness to fight. No battle, however, took place. According to Rodney
the French manœuvred to draw him to leeward of St. Vincent, with the
intention of getting between him and Barbadoes. According to Grasse,
the English admiral, who being to eastward had the wind, made use of his
advantage to avoid a battle. The French showed no eagerness to fight for
their part. During the night they went back to Tobago. When Rodney
discovered that they had vanished his fears for Barbadoes revived, and
he returned there at once. Grasse after a short stay at Tobago returned
to Fort Royal, and so ended that campaign.

The ill health of which Rodney had complained all through the year had
now increased on him. He had applied for leave to come home during the
hurricane months, and it had been reluctantly granted him. As it was now
June, and therefore close on the dangerous season, he began to make
ready. Hood was to be despatched with the bulk of the squadron to Sandy
Hook. Rodney himself decided to make an attempt to go there also, and
only to sail for Europe if he found himself unable to stand a northern
latitude. His old flag-ship the _Sandwich_ was so battered as to be
unfit to stand the voyage. He therefore shifted his flag to the
_Gibraltar_, which had been the _Fenix_, Don Juan de Langara’s
flag-ship. On August 1st he sailed, and after going as far north as the
latitude of the Bahamas found himself so ill as to be compelled to
renounce all intention of going on to America. He therefore steered
directly for England, and after touching at Cork, arrived at Plymouth on
September 19th.



Rodney’s return home was not what he might have hoped it would be a year
before, or what it was destined to be when he returned from his great
campaign a year later. His health was wretchedly bad, and after a very
brief stay in London he went down to Bath to recruit. His son-in-law
Mundy, who edited his correspondence rather in what Carlyle called the
rubbish shot here style, says that he was under the necessity of
consulting London surgeons for some ailment other than the gout from
which he had so long suffered. As a matter of fact it was a stricture.
At Bath the Admiral had a short interval of rest with his wife, his
daughters, and the faithful Loup. Loup, who was perhaps entitled to an
earlier mention, was a French dog whom the Admiral had brought with him
from Paris in 1778--a beast obviously of the most meritorious
intelligence and devotion. Surrounded by these dearly loved friends the
Admiral had two months of rest for his body and mind.

Indeed he needed consolation for the second as well as for the first.
The last campaign had on the whole gone against him, and his popularity
was not what it had been. Rodney might have dispensed with popular
applause, but he could not help seeing that his ministerial friends were
disappointed in him. There was no talk of superseding him. It was not
the wont of George the Third to throw over a faithful servant who had
been unsuccessful, and on such a point the Ministry would not go against
the wish of the King. But there were no signs given him of welcome. The
war was going against England, making the position of the Ministry
harder every day. Lord North and his colleagues could not but feel that
Rodney had of late done little to help them. When the news of the
capture of St. Eustatius came there had been talk of a peerage for the
Admiral. It was so serious that the Duke of Chandos sent him a message
through Lady Rodney offering to let him have Rodney Stoke on reasonable
terms if he wished to take his title from the ancient possession of the
family from which he claimed to descend. The talk ended in talk,
however, as later events in the West Indies went against us. The failure
at St. Vincent, the loss of Tobago under the very eyes, as the grumblers
would say, of Rodney’s fleet, the ease with which Grasse had made his
way to Fort Royal, and the impunity with which he had subsequently
ranged the West Indies in defiance as it seemed of our fleet, made a
great score against us. To this we could only set off, in the way of
actual advance, the capture of St. Eustatius and the Dutch post on the
mainland. This had seemed a brilliant success at the time, but it did
not last. When it was seen that the want of the island had neither
weakened the insurgents on the continent, nor stopped the activity of
the Yankee privateers, nor made it a whit more difficult for a French
admiral to keep the sea,--when finally it was found, as it soon was,
that the seizure of the island had made it harder than before for
Englishmen to obtain those products of the plantations which had become
necessaries to them,--the popular voice turned with its usual
versatility from loud applause to loud complaint. The outcry of the
planters in St. Kitts, and the traders whose goods had been confiscated,
found an echo in England. Their case was taken up in Parliament by the
formidable voice of Burke. Rodney therefore found himself the mark for
not a little obloquy.

The Admiral did not sit in silence under these attacks. He published a
selection of his letters in order to prove that his conduct at St.
Eustatius had been unimpeachable, and that he was not to blame for
subsequent failures. The person to whom he entrusted the publication of
the pamphlet turned out to be an injudicious editor, for he printed
Hood’s request to be allowed to cruise to windward of Martinique, which
of course was to put a weapon into the hands of the Admiral’s enemies.
Rodney was annoyed, but the mischief was done.

In December Rodney had an opportunity of answering his enemies in
Parliament. Burke moved for a committee to inquire into the
circumstances of the seizure of St. Eustatius in a vehement denunciatory
speech such as he only could deliver. The occasion called out both the
weakness and the strength of the great orator. He saw a chance of
damaging the Administration, and seized on it as a party man, in which
character he was neither better nor worse than five hundred other
honourable gentlemen. He also thought he saw that the honour of England
had been tarnished, and her interests sacrificed, by cruelty and greed.
A man must have read Burke to very little purpose who does not know that
when he was convinced he had to deal with these sins his anger was
perfectly sincere and also perfectly generous. In this case he had been
persuaded by the lamentations of the sufferers at St. Eustatius, and he
attacked Rodney with asperity. His charges were in many cases
exaggerated, and Rodney had no difficulty in disposing of them. There
was, however, a substance of truth below the exaggeration, and to that
the Admiral’s answer was but lame. It was easy for him to show that he
had not knowingly allowed provisions and naval stores to be sold to the
French islands in order to fill his own pocket. It was not equally easy
for him to prove that he had not gone to undue lengths in his seizures,
or that he had not stayed too long at St. Eustatius. In his excuses for
subsequent failures he was sadly hampered by the notorious fact that he
had differed in opinion from his subordinate, and that the subordinate
turned out to be right. There is far too much of the weak man’s plea,
“It could not be helped, and how could I know?” for Rodney’s honour. On
the whole one is glad to be done with a disagreeable passage in his
life. The Ministerial majority being still intact, Burke’s motion was of
course rejected.

Rodney was now to have an opportunity of vindicating himself in another
and far more effectual way. Early in December he was summoned by the
King to consult on the measures to be taken to check the victorious
progress of the French in America. On what from this year forward it is
strictly accurate to call the coast of the United States, the war had
gone steadily against England for months. At the close of the campaign
season in the West Indies, Grasse had sailed for America at the same
time as Hood. There he in combination with Washington and Rochambeau
carried out the operations which culminated in the surrender of
Cornwallis at Yorktown. It is just possible that if Hood had commanded
for us at sea, the army under Cornwallis might have been saved, but our
admiral was Graves, a thoroughly commonplace and pedantic officer. He
was out-manœuvred by Grasse, and his retreat from the Chesapeake
after a miserably feeble fight with the Frenchman, which was bitterly
criticised by Rodney, left Cornwallis helpless in the midst of an enemy
four times as numerous as his own army. The surrender of Yorktown
followed on October 17th, 1781.

The news reached England in the following month. It convinced all men,
even the King, that the independence of the colonies must be recognised
at last, but it also showed that the war had entered on a new phase.
Freed by the success of their allies from the necessity of helping the
Americans, the French would now be at liberty to devote themselves to
that attack on our West Indian possessions which had always been the
ultimate object of their war policy. It was a matter of course that
Grasse, the hurricane season being over in the West Indies, and his work
on the mainland done, would hurry back to Martinique. It was known that
a great armament was preparing at Brest to sail under Guichen, Rodney’s
old antagonist, which was to reinforce Grasse. Then the whole force in
combination with the Spaniards from Havannah was to attack Jamaica. A
determined effort must be made to defeat this plan, or the war would end
in disaster at sea as it had done on land.

Throughout November the Admiralty was at work preparing reinforcements
for Hood, who was already outnumbered, and would be mewed up in port by
an overwhelming force if Guichen reached the Antilles before our own
ships. Early in December the danger had become so pressing that it was
decided not to wait till all our reinforcements were ready, but to send
part on as soon as they could be made ready. The King summoned Rodney to
an audience and received from him the assurance that he would not waste
a day in getting to sea. From the King’s cabinet the Admiral hastened to
Portsmouth to hoist his flag on the _Formidable_ and again take up the

Until the January of the following year Rodney was at work, first at
Portsmouth and then at Plymouth (which in a moment of exasperation he
most unjustly called a “horrid port”), superintending the fitting out of
the squadron, collecting men, driving on the laggard dockyard officials,
beating down the ill-will of port admirals who were sulky at real or
imaginary intrusions on their authority. With this kind of opposition
Rodney, well supported as he was now by the Admiralty, kept no measure.
It was instantly crushed; and as for the dockyard officials, what orders
could not do was effected by the crack of the whip. The Admiral could
declare with pardonable pride that he had forced more work out of the
yard in a month than it had done in a year before. All this drive was of
course augmented by the usual torrent of applications for places or
promotion from candidates and their friends. Some of these could be
neglected or refused, but to others attention must be paid. One of these
came from Sandwich on behalf of a Lord Cranstoun who “is greatly
patronised by the Lord Advocate.” It is highly probable that if Sandwich
had been divinely informed that the end of the world would occur in an
hour, the ruins of the universe would have fallen on him placidly
penning a request to somebody to find a place for somebody who was
protected by somebody of importance. Nothing could be done for Cranstoun
for the moment, but Rodney was not quite satisfied with Symonds the
captain of the _Formidable_, and he decided to take the Scotch _protégé_
of the Lord Advocate with him as a volunteer, and to give him the
command of the flag-ship as soon as a place could be found for the other

Two appointments were made at Rodney’s own request which must not be
passed over. Gilbert Blane was named Physician to the Fleet. This was
not only an excellent administrative measure, but a well-deserved reward
for past services. Since the end of 1779 Blane had sailed with Rodney,
and had used his influence to introduce a number of sanitary reforms by
which many hundreds of stout and well-trained seamen were preserved from
fever and scurvy for the day when England’s need for stout and
well-trained men was great indeed. Cleanliness and good food had been
his favourite prescriptions, and to them was due the excellent general
health of our squadrons in the West Indies. The second appointment was
that of Sir Charles Douglas as Captain of the Fleet--an officer who was
occasionally appointed to help an admiral in command of a very large
force. He corresponded to the chief of the staff in an army. Douglas
would be entitled to especial notice in a life of Rodney if only because
of the claim made on his behalf by his son Sir Howard, the gunner--that
he inspired his admiral at the great and critical moment of the battle
of April 12th. But Sir Charles Douglas would be a notable man if no such
claim had ever been made. It may be said of him that he did for the
gunnery of the fleet what Blane did for its health. To him is due the
use of the lock for firing cannon in place of the old port fire and
powder horn--a change which diminished the risk of explosions and
increased the accuracy of our practice. He also improved the
construction of gun carriages so as to enable the cannon to be trained
farther fore and aft, whereby the range of fire was materially
increased. These reforms, be it noted, were made on his own initiative,
and frequently at his own expense. They were adopted by other captains
on his example. These two Scotchmen were admirable types of those
officers who, on blue water and in the presence of the enemy, by their
own efforts perfected the old sailing navy. It is not the least of
Rodney’s services that he saw the merits of both and used them.

While he was completing his staff and fitting his ships for sea the wind
had settled in the south-west, and had imprisoned him at Plymouth. It
was some consolation in this trial that the wind which kept him in
Cawsand Bay would also keep Guichen in Brest. But before the end of
December the fear that the Frenchman might head him in the race to the
West Indies had been removed by means more glorious to us than the help
of our old allies the storms. Guichen did put to sea with his convoy,
but soon after he was out he fell in with Kempenfelt, who was cruising
off the mouth of the Channel. It was a wild and misty day. By a piece of
mismanagement, which does little credit to his reputation as a
tactician, Guichen was to leeward of his convoy. A sudden lifting of the
mist revealed him to Kempenfelt, who was to windward. The English
admiral swooped on his prize before the transports could run under their
convoy’s lee. Fifteen of them, laden with troops and stores, were
captured. The others scattered in terror and were lost in the mist.
Guichen returned to Brest, and in deep humiliation resigned his command.

When Kempenfelt’s destruction of the reliefs for the West Indies was
known, the Ministry, seeing that there was now no fear of a meeting with
a superior force on the way, urged Rodney to put to sea with the ships
which were actually ready, and leave the rest to follow. In words which
ring like the famous appeal to Radetzky--“Austria is in thy camp,”
Sandwich solemnly reminded him that “the fate of this Empire is in your
hands.” Rodney answered the appeal. The instant that the wind, shifting
a little to the north, ceased to blow directly into Plymouth Sound--then
unprotected by its breakwater--he put to sea with four ships of the
line, and began to fight the winds for a passage out to the ocean. The
week which followed was a better test of the quality of the Admiral’s
nerve, and the seamanship of the little squadron round him, than a
battle with Souffren himself could have been. Rodney was now sixty-four,
an older man then than he would have been at the same years now. His
gout had returned on him so cruelly at Plymouth that he had been
compelled to leave the very signing of his letters to Sir Charles
Douglas. The wind was blowing straight in his teeth with undeviating
fury. But he fought on doggedly, and at last, after a week of struggle,
seamanship prevailed. On January 17th, 1782, the squadron weathered
Ushant in sea which made a clean breach over such mighty three-deckers
as the _Formidable_ and the _Namur_. From the open sea he sent back a
frigate with the news to Sandwich, and then pressed on, accompanied by
storms, to the West. On February 19th he anchored in Carlisle Bay in
Barbadoes. From thence he sailed to join Hood off Antigua, and was again
in command of the West Indies.



When the Admiral and his second in command met off Antigua it was
manifest that the crisis of the war was fast approaching in the West
Indies. Since Grasse had returned from the coast of North America the
French had possessed a considerable superiority of force, and had used
it to complete their conquest of the English islands. The bolder and
more efficacious policy would have been to seek out Hood and crush him
before reinforcements arrived from England. But this was at no period in
the war the line taken by any French commander except Souffren. Grasse
followed the traditional rules and attacked the islands. Before his
arrival Bouillé had retaken St. Eustatius by a dashing surprise. When
the French admiral and the governor of Martinique had again joined they
fell upon St. Kitts, which lies between St. Eustatius and Antigua. A
naval force of twenty-nine sail of the line conveyed Bouillé’s soldiers,
and the expedition landed in January. It was far too strong to be
resisted by the small English garrison under General Fraser--the more
because the planters, being thoroughly sulky since the confiscation of
their goods at St. Eustatius, refused to give him any help. He retired
with his soldiers to Brimstone Hill, and fortifying himself there, held
out in the hope that relief would come.

The news of the attack reached Hood at Barbadoes, and he saw at once
that honour and interest alike required that an effort should be made.
He shipped a small force of soldiers under General Prescott and sailed
for St. Kitts. The manœuvring and fighting which followed make what
Cortes would have called a _muy hermosa cosa_--a very pretty piece of
work. The French were stronger by seven sail of the line, but Hood had
decided to attack them where they were anchored near the Basseterre Bank
to cover the troops on shore. His plan was defeated through the gross
misconduct of the officer of the watch of one of our frigates, who threw
his vessel right across the bows of the leading liner, and caused a
collision which entailed a waste of invaluable time. The approaching
English fleet was seen by Grasse, who got up anchor and stood to sea. By
steady manœuvring Hood kept between him and the land. Then he ran in
and anchored at Basseterre himself, thus cutting Grasse off from
Bouillé. The Frenchman, furious at finding himself outmanœuvred, made
three attacks on the English, but Hood had anchored close on the tail of
the bank, and had placed his ships so admirably for mutual support, that
the enemy was beaten off with loss. General Prescott was landed, and an
effort made to relieve Fraser. But the English military force was too
weak to raise the siege of Brimstone Hill, and soon fell back to secure
the protection of the guns of the fleet.

For some weeks these various land and sea forces remained in a curiously
complicated position. Fraser at Brimstone Hill was besieged by Bouillé,
who was threatened by Prescott from Basseterre. Hood while covering
Prescott was threatened by Grasse, who lay out at sea watching him.
Reinforcements had arrived which raised the French to over thirty
vessels. At last Brimstone Hill surrendered. There was nothing to be
gained by holding on to Basseterre any longer. On February 17th Hood
re-embarked Prescott’s men, and summoned his captains on board the
_Barfleur_. Every man’s watch was set by the Admiral’s, and orders were
given that at ten o’clock exactly every cable was to be cut, and the
fleet was to slip to sea under the shadow of the land. At sundown the
riding lights of the English fleet were hoisted on boats anchored
outside of them. At the appointed time the axes of the carpenter’s gangs
fell on the cables from end to end of the fleet, and Hood slipped to sea
leaving the lights on the boats to mislead the French till daylight.
When it came, a few flecks of white on the horizon made by the topsails
of Hood’s ships told Grasse that the enemy, who had outmanœuvred him
all along, had baffled him again. The effort to save St. Kitts had
failed from want of means, but it was gallantly made. The success with
which an inferior English force had defied the French, and had
outmanœuvred them, greatly raised our spirits after the last unlucky
months. His failure had discredited Grasse, and had tended to increase
the already existing ill-will between him and his second and third in
command, Vaudreuil and Bougainville.

The junction with Rodney had raised the English force nearer to an
equality with the French. Grasse was not minded, however, to fight a
battle. His orders were to make ready for that attack on Jamaica which
was to put a triumphant finish to the war. So, taking Bouillé on board
again, he returned to Fort Royal in Martinique. Rodney went south to
Gros Islet Bay in Santa Lucia--his old headquarters--and there resumed
his watch on the enemy.

It was known on both sides that a decisive battle lay ahead of them.
Rodney had written to Parker at Jamaica immediately on reaching the West
Indies, warning him of the approaching attack. The French, he informed
him, would certainly make an effort to fall on the Greater Antilles
soon. For his part he would do his best to fight them to windward, but
if they slipped through his fingers there, then he would follow them to
the west, would join Parker, and the battle would be fought off Jamaica.
In any case there would be a battle. During March both fleets were
making ready. Both expected and received reinforcements. The ships which
were fitting out in England when Rodney left, followed him soon, and
their arrival raised his force to thirty-six sail of the line with a
good proportion of frigates. In the meantime another expedition had been
fitted out at Brest to replace that broken up by Kempenfelt in December.
It was commanded by Captain Mithon de Genouilly, and it reached Fort
Royal safely in spite of us before the end of March. On this occasion,
also, one has to confess that Rodney differed in opinion from Hood, and
that his measures did not succeed. Hood argued that the French in their
anxiety to arrive safely would avoid the neighbourhood of the English
station at Santa Lucia, and he asked for leave to cruise well to the
north among the Antilles. Rodney replied that the French had always
entered the West Indies by the passage between Martinique and Dominica,
and would certainly do so again. He therefore stationed Hood off this
passage, and ordered him to stay there. The calculation that the French
would adhere to the old routine was shrewd enough, and fairly justified
by their conduct of the war, but on this occasion it turned out to be
mistaken. Mithon de Genouilly steered a more northerly course. He
entered the West Indies by Deseada, which is just off Guadaloupe to the
east, and then, hugging the leeward side of the islands, got safe into
Fort Royal. Whether the disposition preferred by Hood would have barred
his road we cannot tell. To have divided our force as widely as he
recommended might have been a dangerous step in the presence of a bold
enemy, and Rodney perhaps did well to avoid the risk that even Grasse
would throw over the cautious French tactics once in a way. But he was
certainly keenly disappointed by the escape of Mithon de Genouilly, all
the more because he had expressed the fullest confidence in the measures
taken to stop him. A squadron being no longer needed to windward of
Martinique, Hood was recalled to Santa Lucia, and the English fleet was
kept ready to start in pursuit the instant the look-out frigates saw
Grasse standing out from Fort Royal. It was Rodney’s last

The two fleets were now within one ship equal in point of numbers.
Grasse was, however, hampered by a great convoy of merchant vessels
which had to be seen safely to San Domingo--a charge which very
materially affected his manœuvres when he did at last get to sea.
They were trading vessels, not transports. The troops which were to be
landed in Jamaica were embarked on the war-ships, and with them the
battering-train. Bouillé was not to go in command this time, as the
Spanish Government insisted that an island which, by the terms of their
compact with France, was to be conquered for Spain, should be attacked
under the direction of a Spanish general. His supersession made no
difference, as things turned out; but if the combined expedition had
actually reached Jamaica, it would have been all to our advantage. Until
April 8th the two fleets remained at anchor--the French getting ready at
Fort Royal; the English waiting to start in pursuit from Santa Lucia,
some forty miles to the south. All leave was stopped on our ships.
Neither officer nor man landed except on duty. A line of frigates
patrolled the space between the two ports within signalling distance of
one another.

At last, on the 8th, the _Andromache_ frigate, commanded by Captain
Byron--“an active, brisk, and intelligent officer,” according to
Rodney--was seen standing in for Santa Lucia with the signal flying
which told that the French were getting to sea. Within two hours the
English were out, and in pursuit. The shortest route for the French
would have been across the Caribbean Sea to their rendezvous with the
Spaniards on the coast of San Domingo. But Grasse could not take that
course without incurring the certainty of being caught up by the
pursuer. There is much dispute between the writers of the time as to
which of the two fleets, French and English, sailed better, each
asserting that the other had the quicker heels. In this case, however,
there could be no doubt that the English, having a greater number of
coppered ships, could have overhauled the enemy. Besides, Grasse would
have been hampered by his lumbering merchantmen. As it was his duty to
save them, and his cue to avoid a battle till he had effected his
junction with the Spaniards, it was probable that he would take the
alternative route--that he would hug the western or leeward side of the
islands and stand to the north, partly because this course would give
him the better chance of keeping the weather-gage, and partly because it
would enable him to stand in guard over his convoy by keeping it between
himself and the land. So Rodney acted on the supposition that Grasse
would go northward, and through the night of April 8th he steered in
that direction past Martinique. On the morning of the 9th the English
fleet was off Dominica, and it was seen that Rodney had judged rightly.
There to north and east of our ships were the French fleet and convoy.

Rodney and Grasse were now face to face on their decisive field of
battle. This field is the stretch of water which extends along the west
side of Dominica to the southern point of Guadaloupe--a length of nearly
fifty miles. It is subject to conditions which dictated the course of
the next four days of fighting and manœuvres as effectually as ever
mountain, wood, or river shaped a battle on land. The island of Dominica
is twenty-seven miles long, it runs from east of south to west of north,
and it is full of hills. The Morne Diablotin, about nine miles from the
northern point, is four thousand seven hundred and forty-seven feet
high. These hills had not a little to do with the coming battles.
Twenty-one miles to the north, and a little to the west of Dominica, is
the southern point of the French island of Guadaloupe. The passage
between the two is not, however, for purposes of navigation twenty-one
miles wide. At about fifteen miles from the northern point of Dominica
it is interrupted by a string of small islands called the Saints, which
extend five miles from E.N.E. to W.S.W. They give its name to the
strait--the Saints’ Passage. These fifty miles of water are divided very
sharply into two zones, so to speak, by the winds which blow over them.
The open water between Dominica and Guadaloupe is swept by the Easterly
Trades. But these winds are broken by the high land of Dominica. All
along the western side of the island there is a belt of water which is
subject to calms, or to variable land and sea breezes. It is obvious,
therefore, that a great fleet, manœuvring in these waters, and
extended in a line of battle miles long, might be in two winds. One end
of it might be in the “true breeze” blowing through the Saints’ Passage,
while the other was in the variable breezes blowing off, or along, or on
to the shore. It might even happen that one half of the fleet might have
the wind while the other was becalmed under the land. As a matter of
fact we shall see that both fleets were subject to these various
conditions from the 9th to the 12th April, and that the whole course of
the fighting was largely dictated by them.

At daylight on the 9th, English and French were alike becalmed under
Dominica. Grasse had his convoy of merchant ships huddled together in
Prince Rupert’s Bay, an anchorage about three miles long and one deep on
the north-western side of the island. To seaward and to the south of
them were the thirty-five liners and the frigates of his fleet. The
English were opposite the central and southern parts of the island,
arranged in a long roughly-formed line. Sir Samuel Hood with the ships
of the van was farthest to the north; Rodney was in the centre to the
south of him; farthest south and farthest from the enemy was
Rear-Admiral Drake with his division. Two of the French ships, the
_Auguste_ and the _Zélé_, were at some distance from their own fleet and
near the English. As the sun rose the southerly breezes got up along the
coast of the island. They were very partial, and broken all day long by
calms. The first of the great host of ships now collected under the
island to feel them were the nine immediately around Sir Samuel Hood. He
at once formed his line, and stretched ahead, aiming to cut off the
isolated French ships. One of them might have been actually separated
but for the rigidity of the discipline which prevailed in the English
fleet. As the breeze reached her, this vessel stood in towards her own
fleet, steering close-hauled across the head of the English. She came so
near that the leading ship, the _Alfred_, was compelled to bear up to
avoid a collision. Officers and men in Hood’s ships waited eagerly for
the order to open fire, but it never came. Hood was watching the mast of
the _Formidable_ for the order to begin, but it was never hoisted, for
some unexplained reason, and the bold Frenchman rejoined Grasse
untouched. This was an instance of the punctilious obedience which is
only just better than disobedience--the action of a man who is resolved
to accept no responsibility, and to leave his commander all the burden;
but it was not disapproved by Rodney.

When the wind reached the French ships, Grasse at once ordered his
convoy to make their way to Guadaloupe to the north-west and leeward.
Two liners were sent with them, and before night they were all out of
sight. With the thirty-three ships which remained to him, Grasse
resolved to work to windward past the Saints. He knew that Rodney would
follow him and not the traders, which would therefore be safe, and he
calculated on his own power of avoiding a battle by keeping to windward.
It is just possible that if he had gone off at once he might have worked
through the passage, while only half the English had the wind. Some of
his vessels were, however, dangerously near Hood, and might have fallen
behind. Neither interest nor honour permitted him to sacrifice them, and
then, too, he saw a chance of crippling the English pursuit by an attack
on the isolated van.

That he had the chance is beyond question. If, in Rodney’s own language,
he “had come down as he should,” Hood might have been surrounded, cut
off, and crushed by numbers long before our becalmed ships could come
up. Some at least of our van must have fallen into the hands of the
enemy. But we were saved by that pedantic adherence to the line of
battle which had been the rule with both fleets, and then by the rule
which bound a French admiral to subordinate an opportunity of immediate
advantage to his ultimate object. Grasse would not come to close
quarters from fear of being entangled into a damaging battle. He decided
to range past Hood’s ships to windward at half-cannon shot, and fire to
cripple his rigging. The manœuvre, such as it was, was neatly
performed. During the forenoon of the 9th about half the French ships
under the direct command of Vaudreuil were engaged in ranging past Hood,
then, when they reached the end of his line, tacking to windward to
return to their starting-point, and pass along from end to end again.
The English ships lay with their topsails to the mast, taking the
Frenchmen’s fire and returning it. More than half the English ships were
mere spectators of the battle. The calms kept them helpless, but towards
mid-day a few of them, by trimming their sails to every cat’s-paw of
wind, contrived to work up. Rodney’s flag-ship the _Formidable_ was one
of these, and was steered between the land and Hood in the hope of
cutting off some of the French ships. As they were seen to be coming up,
Grasse at once hauled off to windward. There was some more distant
cannonading, but the Frenchman had thrown away a magnificent chance, and
fortune gave him no other. A few of Hood’s ships had indeed been
damaged. Captain Bayne of the _Alfred_ had been killed, and the damage
to the squadron was sufficiently severe to induce Rodney to order it to
change places with the rear, giving a promise, however, that so soon as
another battle seemed imminent it should return to the place of honour.
For the rest, none of the English ships were so damaged as to be unable
to take part in the battle of the 12th. Our fire, too, had been very
steady and quick. The French had masts and spars to replace, so that
their flight was as much hampered as our pursuit. The action is, in
fact, an admirable example of the rule that half-hearted operations in
war are always disastrous. Grasse would not risk his fleet in order to
crush a part of the English, and so he left his enemy intact to ruin him
and his “ultimate object” together three days later.

The night of the 9th and whole of the 10th were spent by the two fleets
in repairing damages. Calms and cat’s-paws of wind kept them rolling
harmlessly in sight of one another. During the night of the 10th the
_Zélé_, which was built to bring the French fleet into trouble, ran into
the _Junon_, and so damaged her that she had to be sent off to
Guadaloupe. The _Caton_, too, was found to be so ill rigged that Grasse
got rid of her likewise, and thus reduced his fleet to thirty-one
vessels. All through the 11th the wind gave Rodney no chance of forcing
on an action. The French were beating to windward through the passage,
or gradually wriggling out from under the land. By evening most of them
were out of sight. Rodney had hitherto kept his fleet in line of battle,
but when he saw that the escape of the French had become a question of
an hour or two, he ordered a general chase of the few which still
remained to leeward of the Saints. The best sailers of the English fleet
were soon close upon them, and they were signalling for help. It was, of
course, impossible for Grasse to leave them to their fate, and he came
bowling back before the wind to protect them. He saved them from
capture, but he lost all the advance he had made by a day of laborious
tacking. Before dark the whole French fleet was back to leeward of the
Saints. Rodney recalled his chasing ships, and stood with his whole
fleet to the south. It was too late to fight a battle now, but he wished
to draw the French on and so make it double sure that he would find them
on the, for them, wrong side of the passage next morning. The orders of
the English fleet were to stand to the south till two in the morning,
and then tack to the north. Rodney turned in with the well-grounded
conviction that when day broke the French would be seen by the morning
watch much where they had been left over-night.

It was extremely unlikely that the French fleet would in any case
succeed in doing by night what it had failed to do by day, but at two in
the morning, just when the English fleet was coming round to the north
again, an event happened which made the battle of the following day
inevitable. The _Zélé_ with the others was tacking at the mouth of the
passage, endeavouring not to lose if she could not gain ground in the
trade wind. In the dark she met the _Ville de Paris_, Grasse’s own
splendid flag-ship. The _Zélé_ was on the port, the _Ville de Paris_ on
the starboard tack. According to the express orders of the admiral, and
according to what is now the universal rule of the road at sea, it was
the duty of the Zélé to put her helm up and go under the stern of the
flag-ship. But the great gods were weary of Grasse’s peddling. They
blinded the officer of the watch on the _Zélé_. He luffed, endeavoured
to cross the bow of the flag-ship, and ran smash into her. The _Zélé_
had her bowsprit snapped off short, and her foremast carried away just
above the deck. The two vessels were entangled, wind and current swept
them to leeward before they could be got clear. Then Grasse ordered the
_Astrée_ frigate, commanded by the famous and unlucky La Perouse, to
take the _Zélé_ in tow.

It was two hours before the cable was made fast, and they were on their
way to Guadaloupe. By daylight, about five o’clock, Grasse and the ships
closest to him had fallen to leeward. When the first rays of the sun
showed them to the English fleet, now heading towards them, they were
stretching over from nine to fifteen miles of water to westward of the
Saints. Sir Charles Douglas, who was already up on board the
_Formidable_, saw that the course of the English would cut right through
them. He hurried down to the Admiral’s cabin to report that “God had
given him his enemy on the lee bow.” From Rodney to the youngest middy
in the fleet, all men saw that the battle was coming now.



The great importance of this battle seems to justify a survey of the
strength of the two fleets which took part in it. As the result of that
survey, common honesty extorts the confession that the English were
distinctly the stronger of the two in ships and guns. Very legitimate
national pride enables us to add that it was also much the better. On
that day Rodney had under his command thirty-six sail of the line,
including five three-deckers, carrying in all two thousand six hundred
and seventy-four guns. In addition to these weapons, some at least of
the English ships carried carronades--short guns with a large bore, very
effective at close quarters--which, being mounted on hitherto vacant
spaces on the upper-deck as an experiment, were not counted in the
nominal armament, but did add materially to the weight of the fire.
Grasse had thirty sail of the line, including one three-decker, carrying
in all two thousand two hundred and forty-six guns. The carronade was
not as yet in use in the French service. We had therefore a superiority
of six ships and two hundred and fourteen guns in a broadside, without
counting the carronades. On the other hand, the French ships were
generally larger vessels rate for rate than ours, and the calibre of
their guns heavier. Ingenious attempts have been made to show that by
virtue of the size of their ships, and the weight of the individual
guns, the French were really equal if not superior to us. Sir Charles
Douglas even calculated that they were two seventy-fours to the good.
But our guns were quite big enough for the work they had to do, and
battles are won by a superiority of sufficient blows. That we were
materially stronger than our enemy cannot, I think, be honestly denied.

In this calculation, too, Sir Charles was less than just to himself.
The improvements which he had introduced into our gunnery were part of
our effective strength. His locks and his carriages enabled such of our
ships as had adopted them both to fire quicker and to train their guns
farther fore and aft than the French, whereby an Englishman passing an
enemy on opposite tacks could get him under fire sooner, and keep him
under it longer than he could answer. This was a kind of superiority
which may be quoted with pride, for it was the fruit of intelligent and
zealous work. The spirit which animated Sir Charles was shared by other
captains also. There had been a great development of professional zeal
during the war, and in many ways the fittings of our ships had been
improved--for which let thanks be once more given to the power enjoyed
by our captains. The crews, too, collected early in the war by hook and
by crook, in the fashion already described, had been brought into
admirable discipline. Long cruising in fleets had given our officers a
complete knowledge of the qualities of their vessels as compared with
others--a very necessary kind of knowledge indeed when a number of ships
were to manœuvre together. Finally the spirit of the fleet was high.
In spite of the little success gained in the war hitherto, our officers
and men believed themselves to be better seamen and gunners than the
French, and had been confirmed in that belief by the fighting near St.
Kitts. They only wanted a chance. The disaster at Yorktown and the
danger of England had roused the patriotism of our seamen, whether on
quarter-deck or forecastle, and that emotion had swept the “spirit of
faction” out of their hearts. In Sandwich’s words, they knew that the
fate of the Empire was in their hands, and they did not intend that it
should be lost for want of fierce fighting. Whatever Hood might think of
Rodney, it was certain that he would obey punctually, and would do his
utmost to damage the King’s enemies. In that respect he had a
superiority over the French better than many ships and guns. There was
no such spirit among the French officers and men. There was the
gallantry of their race, there were knowledge and discipline; but there
was no enthusiasm, and not much real aptitude for the work of
sea-fighting. The jealousies which divided officers of all ranks were
not controlled by a high patriotic spirit, and the qualities of the
crews had sunk since the beginning of the war as the well-trained men
were swept off and replaced by others drawn from a poorer maritime
population than ours.

That every man may have his fair share of honour, the list of the two
fleets is here given in the order in which they went into battle.

                       THE ENGLISH FLEET

             SHIPS            GUNS      CAPTAINS

          Marlborough          74     Taylor Penny.
          Arrogant             74     Samuel Cornish.
          Alcide               74     Charles Thompson.
          Nonsuch              74     William Truscott.
          Conqueror            74     George Balfour.
          Princesse            70   { Samuel Drake, Rear-Admiral.
                                    { Charles Knatchbull.
          Prince George        98     James Williams.
          Torbay               74     John Gidoin.
          Anson                64     William Blair.
          Janie                74     Robert Barber.
          Russel               74     James Saumarez.
          America              64     Samuel Thompson.
          Hercules             74     Henry Savage.
          Prothée              64     Charles Buckner.
          Résolution           74     Robert Manners.
          Agamemnon            64     Benjamin Caldwell.
          Duke                 98     Alan Gardner.
                                    { G. B. Rodney, Admiral.
                                    { Charles Douglas.
          Formidable           98   { John Symonds.
                                    { Cranstoun.
          Namur                90     Inglis.
          Saint Albans         64     William Cornwallis.
          Canada               74     Thomas Dumaresq.
          Repulse              64     Charrington.
          Ajax                 74     Robert Fanshawe.
          Bedford              74   { Affleck, Commodore,
                                    { Grave.
          Prince William       64     George Wilkinson.
          Magnificent          74     Robert Linzee.
          Centaur              74     John Inglefield.
          Belliqueuse          64     Alexander Sutherland.
          Warrior              74     James Wallace.
          Monarch              74     Francis Reynolds.
          Barfleur             90     Samuel Hood, Vice-Admiral.
          Valiant              74     John Knight
          Yarmouth             64     S. G. Goodall.
          Montagu              74     Anthony Parry.
          Alfred               74     George Brown.
          Royal Oak            74     Thomas Burnett.

                          FRENCH FLEET

          Hercule              74     Chadeau de la Clocheterie.
          Souverain            74     De Glandevés.
          Palmier              74     De Martelly Chautard.
          Northumberland       74     De Sainte Césaire.
          Neptune              74     Renaud d’Aleins.
          Auguste              80   { De Bougainville, Chef d’Escadre,
                                    { De Castellan.
          Ardent               64     De Gouzillon.
          Scipion              74     Clave.
          Brave                74     D’Amblimont.
          Citoyen              74     D’Ethy.
          Hector               74     De la Vicomté.
          César                74     De Marigny.
          Dauphin Royal        70     De Roquefeuil Montpéroux.
          Languedoc            80     D’Arros d’Argelos.
          Ville de Paris      104   { Comte de Grasse, Lieut.-Gén.
                                    { De Lavilléon.
          Couronne             80     Mithon de Genouilly.
          Eveillé              64     Le Gardeur de Tilly.
          Sceptre              74     De Vaudreuil.
          Glorieux             74     D’Escars.
          Diadème              74     De Monteclerc.
          Destin               74     Dumaitz de Goimpy.
          Magnanime            74     Le Béque.
          Refléchi             64     De Médine.
          Conquérant           74     De la Grandière.
          Magnifique           74     Macarty Macteigne.
          Triomphant           80   { De Vaudreuil, Chef d’Escadre.
                                    { Le Chevalier du Paullion.
          Bourgogne            74     De Charitte.
          Duc de Bourgogne     80   { Coriolis d’Espinouse.
                                    { De Champmartin.
          Marseillais          74     De Castellane Majastre.
          Pluton               74     D’Albert de Rions.

When Rodney was summoned by his captain of the fleet at daybreak on the
12th, and came on deck to see with his eyes the proof that his
calculation of the night before was correct, the French were straggling
over a space variously estimated at nine or at fifteen miles from east
to west to the north-east of him. The English were in a rough oval drawn
from north to south. Hood had resumed his proper place in the van;
Rodney was in the centre; Rear-Admiral Drake in the rear. A line
carried out from the leading English ship would bisect the French. As
the wind was from south of east, the trade wind of the West Indies, all
the Frenchmen to the west of that line were on the Admiral’s lee-bow,
which meant that he had every chance of forcing a battle on them before
they could again get away to windward. To the west of the French was
seen the crippled _Zélé_ in tow of the _Astrée_ going to Guadaloupe.
Rodney at once decided to try whether he could not, by threatening these
two vessels, draw the French admiral still farther to leeward. Orders
were given to some of the best sailers in Hood’s division to chase. As
soon as they had stood well out from among the English ships the effect
of the measure was manifest. Signals fluttered up the mainmast of the
_Ville de Paris_, and the French ships were seen to be coming down to
cover the _Zélé_, and to be steering to take their places in the line of
battle ahead, and astern of their admiral. This meant that Grasse had
sacrificed what remained to him of the windward position, and the fleets
were now equal as regards the wind. There was no time to be lost. At
once--it was now about a quarter to seven--the chasing ships were
recalled, but in order to avoid the delay which would be caused by
waiting till they resumed their place, Rodney decided to order the rear
to lead into action. Thus, while the chasing ships were returning to
their post in the van, the ships farthest from the enemy hauled to the
wind and stood to the north-east between the bulk of the fleet and the
land of Dominica. Each ship fell into place as her turn came, the
chasing ships from the van arriving in time to take their post in what
had now become the rear. In Captain Matthews’ plans the ships of
Admiral Drake’s division may be seen curling over the fleet, and
pointing at the French like the tail of the scorpion. The line was
formed with rapidity and without a hitch. It was, in technical language,
a line ahead on the starboard tack at a cable’s length asunder--each
ship was, that is to say, two hundred yards in front of or behind the
other in a line. From the first ship to the last there was, when the
formation was complete, a distance of more than five miles.

While the line was forming, the fleet went to breakfast. Every man not
actually at work, or the wheel, hastened to get all the food he could.
In the Admiral’s cabin a party sat down with the appetite of warriors
whom death could not daunt, and the care of veterans who foresaw the
extreme probability that no more victuals might be attainable for the
rest of that day. Douglas, the captain of the fleet; Symonds, the
captain of the _Formidable_; Paget, the Admiral’s secretary; Gilbert
Blane, his doctor; and a few others who messed at the Admiral’s table,
sat down with Rodney. Cranstoun remained on deck to watch the enemy. In
the middle of breakfast he came down with the news that on the course
they were then following the English would cut through the French.
Grasse had formed on the port tack, and was standing to the south-east
across the northerly course of the English. It was his natural object to
place himself across the mouth of the passage, and to windward of the
English if he could. The two fleets were now running along two lines
which formed an obtuse angle, of which the apex pointed to the east.
Whichever reached that apex first would weather the other. Cranstoun’s
message showed that the French would win the race. They had (though
there is some doubt on the point) been slightly favoured by a shift of
the trade wind to the north. Rodney made no answer to Cranstoun, and
doubtless thought the occasion called for none. He had always preferred
to engage to leeward, as he did in his battle with Langara. The windward
position was only valuable to him because it would enable him to force
on an action. Now, when it was a case with the French of “fight they
will, and fight they must,” he cared not a jot whether or no they
weathered the head of his line. His position compelled the enemy’s
admiral to give battle. As it turned out ill for him he has been
severely criticised by his countrymen, who do not seem to understand
that their complaints are in truth a confession of inferiority. The
experience of the previous day had shown that Rodney could not be shaken
off. On the morning of the 12th Grasse had to choose between running
away to Guadaloupe with the English after him, or standing as he was now
doing across their van. If he had endeavoured to get away on the
opposite tack he would have been unable to clear the Saints, and he
would have been taken in a trap. Not to have fought in these
circumstances would have been to acknowledge that a French fleet could
not hope to meet an English one on anything approaching to equal terms.
The plan of Grasse was a good plan enough. He hoped to cross the English
van, to cripple a few of the ships, then, when he had reached a
convenient place for tacking, to turn to windward, and make off while
Rodney was refitting his damaged ships.

The feasibility of this plan depended, for Grasse, on his power to keep
at long bowls. If a close action could be forced on them his ships would
be unable to tack under the English fire. A close action was forced. At
some moment between seven and eight o’clock the leading English ship,
the _Marlborough_, came within range. If the upper side of the obtuse
angle spoken of above is prolonged we shall get the relative position of
the fleets pretty accurately. The English formed the lower line and they
impinged on the French at about the ninth ship--the _Brave_. Rodney had
hoisted the signal to engage close to leeward. When, therefore, Captain
Taylor Penny of the _Marlborough_ found himself within musket-shot range
of the _Brave_ he put his helm up, and turning a little to port, led the
English line close along the French. Our enemy was as yet barely in
order. Bougainville, who commanded the van, had just taken his place.
Their rear was still in confusion, and Vaudreuil, who commanded there,
afterwards declared that he formed his line under small-arm fire. We
have now to figure to ourselves the two fleets filing past one another,
cannonading as they went. Both were going very slowly. The wind was
light; it was necessary to go at something below the speed of the
slowest ship, since all must retain the power to shoot ahead if
required, and so they filed slowly along at about three and a half miles
an hour. Their course would have carried the leading French ships away
from the English, but Grasse ordered them to bear down, with the
intention of putting our leading vessels under the utmost possible
amount of fire before they reached his centre and rear. Each fleet was
soon engaged from the leading ship, and the two lines hurtled past one
another in opposite directions. The English, having a margin of wind to
draw on, used it to hug the French close--so close that, as Thesiger, an
officer of the _Formidable_, said, it would have been possible to throw
a cold shot on board them as they went past. At that range the
carronades of the English ships did great execution. On board the
French, which were crowded with the soldiers who were to have conquered
Jamaica, the slaughter was terrible, and the effect of it soon visible,
first in the number of the dead, or sometimes only badly wounded, who
were hurled overboard to the sharks, and then in the slackening fire of
the French. Gilbert Blane has left it on record that although our
enemy’s fire was effective at long ranges, it grew wild and irregular at
close quarters. We could, he says, actually see the Frenchmen running
from their guns in spite of the determined efforts of the officers to
keep them steady. Captain Savage of the _Hercules_, who suffered as
badly from the gout as his Admiral, had a chair placed for himself in
the waist of his ship, and sat there leaning over the bulwarks
ironically saluting the passing enemy.

When the battle had lasted about an hour, and the English van had almost
reached the French rear, their admiral thought it was time to turn to
windward, and hoisted the order to do so twice. But the orders could not
possibly be obeyed. The French ships were yard-arm to yard-arm with the
English, and if they had tacked now would have been raked and rendered
helpless. Many of the ships cannot even have seen the signals in the fog
of smoke now hanging over both fleets. France had to “undergo her fate.”
Grasse bore on to the south, and at about nine the English van had
passed the last ship of his rear. On emerging from the rolling masses of
smoke the captains looked eagerly back for the signals at the towering
mast-head of the _Formidable_. As they looked they saw a great
three-decker heading north out of the cloud and the flames. For a moment
they thought the French admiral had doubled back on them, but as the
three-decker cleared the smoke they saw the cross of St. George, and
knew that the _Formidable_ had burst through the French line to

The movement had not been premeditated by Rodney, and the signal to
engage to leeward was still flying when he passed to windward. The
decision to depart from the old routine, according to which the English
fleet would have passed along the French and then have tacked back on
it--that decision which may be said to have affected the whole immediate
future of England--was sudden, was taken on the spur of the moment, was
equally unexpected by victor and vanquished. So much is certain; but the
exact circumstances under which it was done, and what share of the
credit ought to fall to whom, is the subject of the controversy spoken
of in the note at the beginning of this chapter. The courteous reader is
asked to remember that the incidents now about to be narrated have been
most diversely told, and still more diversely interpreted.

A glance at the list of ships given above will show that the
_Formidable_ was exactly in the middle of the English line, being the
eighteenth of the thirty-six men-of-war in it. As the French van bore in
upon ours she was engaged with each of their ships in succession. The
fleets were slipping slowly along, and it was well on for ten o’clock
before the _Formidable_ passed the eighteenth vessel in the French line.
She had gone close to them all, firing as soon as her guns could be
trained forward to meet, and as long as they could be trained aft to
follow, each foe as she defiled past. Then between each bout of fire
there would be a pause as the _Formidable_ came opposite the vacant
space between the ships in the French line, and having sent her last
broadside after one was training it forward to meet the next comer. It
must have been at a little before half-past nine that Rodney and Grasse,
whose ship was the fifteenth in the French line, saluted each other with
the cannon of their three-deckers. Up to now there had been nothing to
distinguish this from the ordinary sea-fights of the eighteenth century
save the number of the ships engaged and the closeness of the

A chair had been placed on the quarter-deck of the _Formidable_ for the
Admiral, and he rested on it except when he was walking through the
cabins under the poop, to the gallery astern, from which he could watch
the ships of his line behind him. On the quarter-deck with him were
several whose names must not be passed over. Sir Charles Douglas was
there with his _aides_--little middies--of whom one, Charles Dashwood, a
boy of thirteen, is associated more closely than his seniors at the time
would have thought possible with the memories of the victory. Near the
wheel stood Frederick Thesiger, he who afterwards carried Nelson’s
letter to the Regent of Denmark after the battle of the Baltic. Thesiger
had completed his time as midshipman, and was waiting for his
lieutenant’s commission. He had been chosen on the recommendation of
Captain Symonds to stand by the wheel and see that the quartermasters
executed orders punctually. Gilbert Blane, not being one of the medical
staff of the ship, employed himself during the early stage in helping to
provide work for the French doctors. He worked at a gun in the
fore-cabin till he was tired.

It was thirsty work fighting in the thick pall of sulphurous smoke in
which the gunpowder soon wrapped a ship. Rodney, in one of his turns
through the cabins, called one of the middies and told him to mix a
tumbler of lemonade. The middy went to work, and, having nothing more
handy for the purpose, stirred the brew up with the hilt of his dirk.
“Child, child,” said the Admiral, “that may do for the midshipmen’s
mess. Drink that lemonade yourself, and send my steward here”--which
order the middy obeyed with alacrity.

When eighteen of the Frenchmen had gone by, each carrying away marks of
the _Formidable’s_ broadside, the Admiral was standing on the
quarter-deck, and with him was Gilbert Blane. The high bulwarks on
either side, and the hammocks stacked across the front of the
quarter-deck in a barricade, shut in the view. Rodney wished to take a
look at the French line, and, accompanied by Blane, stepped out on the
starboard gangway. They had just passed the _Sceptre_, and leaning over
the rails of the gangway they saw the _Glorieux_, seventy-four, rolling
down on them. She had just taken the fire of Captain Alan Gardner in the
_Duke_, ninety-eight, a splendidly-efficient three-decker, and was
reeling from the shock. Her captain, the Vicomte d’Escars (a name it is
now thought correct to spell Des Cars), a gentleman of the house of
Fitzjames, had been killed, and hurled overboard to the sharks. His
lieutenant, Trogoff de Kerlessi, had nailed the white flag with the
golden lilies to the stump of a mast. Rodney and Blane saw the Frenchmen
on the upper-deck throwing away rammers and sponges, and running from
the guns. A glance showed Rodney that the wind was forcing the
_Glorieux_ down on him, and that she was almost about to touch. His
broadsides were being aimed low, but not sufficiently low for that. She
had enough, but she must be crushed, and knocked out of the French line.
“Now,” said Rodney to the doctor, “comes the fight for the body of
Patroclus.” He looked round for a messenger. None was at hand, and he
turned to Blane, saying, “Run down and tell them to elevate their
metal.” The phrase was obscure to the doctor in spite of his experience
as a gunner, but Hudibras came to his help. He remembered that it is the
nature of guns that, “the higher are their pitches the lower they let
down their breeches.” He ran down with the order--which meant that the
muzzles of the guns were to be depressed to fire a sinking
broadside--and so deprived posterity of an admirable witness of what
happened on the _Formidable’s_ quarter-deck during the next few minutes.

In these minutes was taken the decision which gave its exceptional and
vital importance to the battle. While Rodney and Blane were speaking in
the gangway, or just before, there had come a shift in the wind which
affected the southern half of the two fleets simultaneously but
diversely. It was one of those currents of air common enough in the
neighbourhood of land, and it came from the south-east, striking on the
bows of the French and the sterns of the English. Our vessels going
before the wind had only to trim their sails a little to keep their
place. But it threatened to take the French aback, to blow right ahead
of them, and stop their way. To avoid this they were compelled to turn
to the right, which had the effect of throwing them into what the French
call a chequer, we a bow and quarter line--that is to say, that instead
of following one another in a line, they were suddenly spun round into
the position of the half-closed lathes of a venetian blind. The already
existing confusion in the French line was immensely increased, and a
great gap appeared just astern of the _Glorieux_, which was now right on
the starboard bow of the _Formidable_, caused probably by the fact that
the _Diadème_, the next succeeding Frenchman, was forced across the bows
of the English flag-ship.

Sir Charles Douglas was at this moment leaning on the hammocks in the
front of the quarter-deck, and he saw the evidence of the existing
confusion in the French line. That he realised the whole extent of it we
need not believe, but he saw the gap, and he saw that by passing through
it we might cut the French rear off from the centre and put it between
two fires. He jumped down from the hammocks and (so Dashwood told the
story in later years) asked his little _aide_, “Dash, where is Sir
George?”--“I think he is in the cabin, sir,” was the answer. Both turned
aft and came face to face with the Admiral, who was just stepping out of
the gangway. Sir Charles went up to him, and, taking off his hat,
pointed out the gap in the French line to Rodney, urging him to steer
through it. For a moment the Admiral hesitated. He did not like to
“have things sprung on him” at any time, and now it behoved him to
think. It was very well for the captain of the fleet to recommend the
manœuvre; he would be covered by the authority of his Admiral. For
Rodney, who would have to bear the responsibility for the consequences,
it was a very serious step indeed. He had served under Mathews, and had
not forgotten the fate which overtook that officer for departing from
the consecrated rules of battle. His first impulse was to say no, and he
did. “I will not break my line, Sir Charles,” was his answer. In his
eager conviction that he was right Douglas pressed the Admiral again,
and even so far forgot himself as to actually give the order to port to
the quartermasters. A fierce reminder of their respective positions from
Rodney stopped him before the wheel had moved. Then, as we may well
suppose, instinctively feeling the indecency of a wrangle, the two men
turned from one another for a moment. The break in the dispute calmed
both. They turned and faced one another near the wheel. Douglas
respectfully implored Rodney to take his advice. Reflection had shown
Rodney that his subordinate was right, and with a wisdom and magnanimity
which have been strangely distorted, and a courtesy which has been
wondrously misunderstood, he told Douglas to do as he pleased. At once
the order to port was repeated. Dashwood was sent flying down with the
needful directions to the lieutenants in the batteries. The _Formidable_
swung round to starboard, and cut through the French line, pouring her
broadside into the _Glorieux_ to right and the _Diadème_ to left as she

When he had given his consent to the change in the course of the
_Formidable_, Rodney at once went aft to the stern-walk, to see whether
the ships behind were following. There were then no means of signalling
a new order suddenly, and the old order to engage to leeward was still
flying. If his captains behaved as others had done in the fight with
Guichen on April 17th two years before, if they stuck to the pedantic
old rules, the _Formidable_ might find herself alone to windward of the
French. Happily a very different spirit prevailed now, and Captain
Inglis of the _Namur_, the next ship astern to the _Formidable_, looking
to the spirit and not the letter, followed his Admiral through the gap,
though the signal to engage to leeward had not been hauled down. He was
himself followed by Cornwallis in the _Saint Albans_, Dumaresq in the
_Canada_, Charrington in the _Repulse_, and Fanshawe in the _Ajax_.
These vessels filed past the _Glorieux_, reducing her to a wreck.
Captain Inglis, looking after her as she dropped astern of him, saw her
almost blown out of the water by the fire of the _Saint Albans_. By this
movement all the eleven ships of Vaudreuil’s division were cut off from
the other nineteen, and forced to turn off to the west. Captain Alan
Gardner of the _Duke_, the ship next ahead of the _Formidable_, finding
that the _Diadème_ had stopped the way of the French ships astern of
her, and was in a confused tangle with them, spontaneously did as his
Admiral had just done--ported his helm and passed to windward, firing
right and left into the bewildered enemy.

In the meantime the French line had been cut in a second place. The last
ship of the English centre division was the _Bedford_, seventy-four, in
which Commodore Affleck had his broad pennant flying. The _Bedford_ had
sailed along the French line close in the now dense smoke of battle,
which would be particularly thick in the rear of the English line. As it
was to leeward the smoke of both fleets would be rolled on our ships.
Suddenly the _Bedford_ found that there was no enemy to windward of her.
She had, in fact, in the fog of gunpowder smoke passed through another
gap in the enemy’s formation, caused by the shift of the wind to the
south-east. Affleck stood on, followed by the twelve ships of Hood’s
division. The Frenchman astern of which they passed was the _César_, the
twelfth in the line. As the _Glorieux_ was the nineteenth, it will be
seen that seven French ships in the centre were cut off from their van
and rear alike. These seven--the _Dauphin Royal_, seventy; _Languedoc_,
eighty; _Ville de Paris_, one hundred and four; _Couronne_, eighty;
_Eveillé_, sixty-four; _Sceptre_, seventy-four; and _Glorieux_,
seventy-four--were huddled into a mass and torn to pieces by the fire of
the _Formidable_, and the ships astern of her as far as the _Ajax_,
which was poured into them from starboard, while thirteen of our ships,
from the _Bedford_ to the _Royal Oak_, were cannonading them from the
port side. By eleven the last ship of the English rear had passed the
_César_. Rodney had cleared the French line before. Our van under Drake
had cleared the French rear, the sportive Captain Savage of the
_Hercules_ luffing to rake the last Frenchman--the _Pluton_,
seventy-four, commanded by a very brave and skilful officer named
D’Albert de Rions--as he cleared her. Then, all our ships being up to
windward and out of the smoke, we could look back, as the wind
scattered it and rolled it to the west--could look and see such a
spectacle as no British seaman had seen in this war so far.

There to westward and south-westward of us lay the French, broken into
three fragments. On the surface of the water there was something which
was pure horror to all whose eyes were compelled to see it. Shoals of
sharks--which alone among God’s creatures the sailor tortures without
remorse, the loathsome brute which loiters to profit by his
misfortune--had collected to feed on the corpses thrown overboard, or
the living who had fallen with fragments of rigging. They were leaping
over one another, and ravening at their prey. From them the eyes of our
men turned to the scattered fragments of the French fleet. They were
three in number. Vaudreuil with the rear had been turned to the west.
Two miles south of him seven ships were huddled round the flag. Four
miles to the south-east of him again was Bougainville. His course had
taken him into the dead calm under the high land of Dominica. The
English had themselves broken into three in dividing the enemy, but they
had streamed up to windward. They could unite, and had it in their power
to select the point of attack. Between the two fleets lay the dismasted
hulks of the _César_ and the _Glorieux_, the vessels astern of which the
French line had been cut, rolling helpless on the water.

For an hour or so our advantage of position was not available. The
thunder of so many guns had beaten down the wind. Conquerors and
conquered lay bound by the calm. A little after mid-day a gentle breeze
arose, and the English streamed down on the enemy. The signal for the
line of battle was hauled down, and we advanced in no order, as needing
none against a foe already shattered. It has always been the weakness of
the French to be enslaved by rules, and to become panic-stricken when
these break down. There was panic among them now. Signal after signal
was hoisted in vain by their admiral. Bougainville, tied by ill-will as
much as by the calm, did nothing; Vaudreuil did little. The English as
they felt the wind--all of them, that is, whose rigging had not been too
severely cut up--pressed upon the enemy, steering, by a natural impulse
and without express orders, to where the mighty bulk of the _Ville de
Paris_ and the flag of Grasse pointed out the great prize. The crippled
_Glorieux_ was the first of the enemy to surrender. A gallant attempt to
save her was made by the French frigate _Richmond_, commanded by Captain
Mortemart, a gentleman, as his name shows, of a good house. He offered
to take the crippled liner in tow, but Trogoff de Kerlessi would not
allow his gallant countryman to sacrifice himself and his ship in vain.
The English were closing round. Trogoff cut the cable, telling Mortemart
to save himself, and then surrendered his shattered vessel, as a brave
man might, without dishonour. There was some honour in defeating enemies
of that stamp. The _César_ hauled down her colours soon after. The
_Hector_ and the _Ardent_ fell next. This last was a most welcome prize.
She had been taken from the English by the great combined fleet of
Frenchmen and Spaniards which cruised at the mouth of the Channel in
1779. She alone had pushed out from among Bougainville’s squadron to the
help of her admiral, and was close to him when she struck. Her captain’s
name was Gouzillon. The last of the French prizes to be taken was the
_Ville de Paris_. The light winds made our movements slow, and our ships
only came up with her when the afternoon was wearing on. They tackled
her to port and to starboard, but the admiral fought as a man fights who
wishes to atone by heroism for all faults. His cartridges were used up,
and it was necessary to hoist powder-barrels out of the hold, and serve
out the powder with the ladle. The solid fog of smoke between decks
choked the lanterns by which the men worked below. Still, until nearly
six he had not surrendered. Then, with the feeling which caused Francis
I. at Pavia to refuse to give up his sword till he could hand it to the
Viceroy of Naples, the _alter ego_ of a sovereign and in some sort his
equal, he looked about for a flag-officer to whom to surrender. At that
moment Samuel Hood bore down on him in the _Barfleur_. She had been long
becalmed, and it had been necessary to get the boats out to tow her into
the breeze. Now she was pressing on to lay alongside the _Ville de
Paris_. Grasse turned towards her, firing a gun of salute. Hood
concluded that his old friend of the fights off Martinique and St. Kitts
wished to surrender to him. He returned the salute, ranged up alongside,
and the two admirals fought a space for honour’s sake. There was no want
of cartridges on board the _Barfleur_. Her guns were cold. Her men were
fresh. Her terrible fire speedily overpowered the languid answer of the
_Ville de Paris_, whose crew, diminished by a half, were fighting
hopelessly in the dark of the smoke with guns which they could only
slowly feed with powder. After a few minutes Grasse concluded that
enough had been done. There were but three unwounded men on his
upper-deck, of whom he was one. More men had been slain in his ship than
in the whole British fleet. There were not two square feet of his upper
works unshattered by shot. His rigging was a wreck. At six o’clock he
hauled down the Fleur de Lys with his own hands. A few minutes later he
stepped into the cutter which shot alongside him from the _Barfleur_,
and was taken a prisoner to Hood. By Hood he was taken to Rodney, and so
ended a career which might have finished with honour if he had not later
disgraced himself by ignoble attempts to throw the blame of defeat on
his captains.

The battle was over, and had been over for some time; but in the opinion
of many officers the pursuit should have lasted longer. If we can
believe Thesiger, who wrote a few months later to his brother, Douglas
pressed Rodney to follow the French through the night. Having wedged
ourselves between Vaudreuil and Bougainville, it would seem that we
might have followed and crushed either. The French were certainly broken
into two. Part of them fled in panic to Curaçoa, six hundred miles off;
others to San Domingo. But Rodney thought otherwise. He--so says
Thesiger--silenced Douglas by telling him that he had already spoken too
much. The captain of the fleet was beyond dispute so stung by this, or
some similar, rebuke that he seriously thought of resigning his place to
Fanshawe of the _Ajax_. He thought better of it, and was always
afterwards perfectly loyal to his admiral when busybodies asked him if
enough had been done. “We had a great deal to do, sir, and I think you
will allow we did a great deal,” was his uniform reply. Rodney did
answer the critics by giving his reasons for not pursuing. He alleged
the crippled state of some of his ships, the probability that the French
might reunite, the chance that the prizes might be lost, the necessity
of going on to Jamaica and looking to its safety. These are, frankly,
not reasons which would have satisfied Hawke, or Rodney himself twenty
years before. But he was old, broken by disease, his hour of full
triumph had come late, he had that day had thirteen hours of incessant
strain of work and anxiety. Something must be allowed for human
weakness. The pursuit was stopped and the fleet lay to for the night.
The last incident of the battle was the loss of the _César_--a
foreshadowing of what was to follow, for none of our prizes lived to
reach England. After the surrender the French crew broke into disorder,
and one of them, entering her spirit-room with a naked light, set fire
to an unheaded cask of ratafia. The flames spread, and the _César_
burned to the water’s edge. The English prize-crew perished in her, the
lieutenant in command being seen in the stern-walk fighting the fire to
the last. No boat dared approach: the sharks were swarming under the
counter; and he stayed to die in the flames, at his post.

Such, as far as I have been able to realise it, was the great battle
sometimes called by us “of the Saints,” but most commonly “of April
12th,” and by the French termed the battle off Dominica. The failure to
pursue was a blot; but after all, as Sir Charles Douglas was wont to
say, “a great deal _had_ been done.” If we had not twenty prizes instead
of five, we had destroyed at a blow the laboriously-built-up prestige of
the French fleets in the New World, which was something. We had
restored our own nerve and shaken the enemy’s. This result was fully
shown some months later when Howe sailed on the final relief of
Gibraltar. On that occasion the combined French and Spanish fleets
shrank timidly from measuring themselves with a greatly inferior English
force. The immediate effect of the battles was to break up the French
fleet in the West Indies and to save Jamaica. Vaudreuil, who fled to San
Domingo, waited only to collect as many ships as he could, and then
sailed for the coast of North America. The French ships which had taken
refuge at Curaçoa made no further attempt to keep the sea. It is true
that during the remainder of the war, which dragged on till the
beginning of 1783, the allies collected considerable fleets and
continued to talk of renewing the attack on the West Indies. English
Ministers, when called upon to defend the peace then made, pointed to
the size of these fleets as reasons why we should accept less good terms
than the nation thought we had a right to demand. But in truth the
allies made no real use of those forces, and they were only quoted by
English Ministers as an excuse for doing what they felt to be made
necessary by the financial burden imposed by the war, and the fatigue
caused by five years of fighting. Essentially the peace was a good one.
We were, indeed, compelled to acknowledge the independence of the United
States, and we restored Minorca and Florida to Spain; but we kept
Gibraltar, we fixed our grip for ever on India, and we settled on equal
terms with France. Our position was in reality intact and our spirit
unbroken. That this was so was largely due to the victory of April 12th.
It is therefore right that this day, and the man who commanded on it,
should be remembered among the great days and the great men of the

The battle has a place all its own in the history of our navy. It marked
the beginning of that fierce and headlong yet well-calculated style of
sea-fighting which led to Trafalgar, and made England undisputed
mistress of the sea. Perhaps a little too much has been made of the
manœuvre of “breaking the line.” The value of a manœuvre in war is
apt to depend on the value of the men who make it. The history of our
own navy contains a convincing example of that truth. In 1811 Sir
William Hoste fought an action off Lissa with a squadron of frigates
against a French frigate squadron under Dubourdieu. The Frenchman
deliberately imitated Nelson’s plan of attack at Trafalgar. Yet he was
completely beaten, and fell in the defeat. It would seem, therefore,
that something more goes to the gaining of victories than manœuvres.
In truth, the English fleet won because it was infinitely superior to
the French--a hundred years ahead of it, as the prisoners acknowledged.
If it had not so won before, it was because it had been tied down by
pedantic rules. When Rodney broke from them he gave the real superiority
of our ships a chance to exert itself. That superiority he himself had
helped to create. No Sir Charles Douglas, no Edmund Affleck, no Hood
even, can take that glory away. For the rest, are we the poorer because
we had a splendid force as well as a great commander?



When Rodney issued the order to cease action on the evening of April
12th, his active life had practically come to an end. He proceeded with
his fleet and his prizes to Jamaica, after despatching Hood, somewhat
tardily, in pursuit of the scattered French. Hood picked up two liners
and a few smaller craft in the Mona Channel between Porto Rico and San
Domingo. At Jamaica, Rodney was received with natural and well-deserved
enthusiasm by the people whom he had saved from a great danger. He
remained at Port Royal till the end of July. The work of refitting the
squadron occupied him much, and was not made lighter by the condition of
the dockyard, which had fallen into bad order since he had himself been
on the station in 1774. He looked forward to exercising his command for
some time longer--even to the end of the war. In a letter to his wife he
begs her to contradict all reports that he was coming home. If he had
wished to return after his victory, he might have done so with credit,
for his work was done and his health had again broken down. At Port
Royal he was so ill as to be compelled to hand over the command for a
time to his second. He still, however, clung to his great office, and
in the circumstances he cannot be blamed for being loath to retire in
the presence of the enemy.

Had he known what was passing in England while he was breaking up the
French fleet it is possible that a request to be relieved might have
accompanied the news of his victory in the despatch-box of Lord
Cranstoun, who gave up his immediate prospect of a ship in order to be
the bearer of good tidings to London. If the two documents had been
delivered together he would have scored a double victory over the
Ministry. At the very moment that he was pressing the pursuit of the
French, his recall was being decided on by the Ministry, and it would
have been something to have forestalled them. Lord North had been driven
from office in March, and a Whig administration had succeeded. The new
Cabinet resolved to recall the Tory admiral, and it is characteristic
that the officer they chose to succeed him was Admiral Pigot. Pigot was
a man of no distinction, of no experience in the command of fleets, and
he had been long on shore; but he had sat for years in the House and had
always voted steadily with the Whigs. For these services he was chosen
to bear out the laconic order which told Rodney to haul down his flag,
and to him it was given to succeed the most brilliantly successful
commander of the war.

By one of the most ironical pieces of ill-luck--and the best
merited--which ever overtook any Administration, the news of the great
victory reached England just after Pigot had sailed. Orders were at once
sent off to stop him, but it was too late. He was out of sight of land
on his way to the West Indies before the messenger could reach the
port. There was nothing for it but to stick to their guns, to retort on
their adversaries that the country had heard the news of the recall with
indifference however loudly it cried out _after_ receiving the news of
the victory (which was perfectly true), and to protest the utmost
respect for the Admiral. To do it justice, the Whig Cabinet executed
itself with a reasonably good grace. Burke declared in his figurative
classical way that if there was a bald spot on the head of the Admiral
he would gladly cover it with laurels. A committee which had been
appointed to inquire into the miscarriages at St. Eustatius was
discharged. It was decided that Rodney should have a barony and another
pension of £2000. Sandwich, who being now in Opposition could afford to
be generous, declared that a barony was not enough. His own ancestor,
the Admiral Montague who helped to restore Charles the Second, and was
slain at Solebay, had received an earldom and more money for less than
had been done by Rodney. There was truth in his criticism, but the
Ministry cannot be accused of niggardly conduct if judged by the
standard of the time. Titles were less lavishly given for service then
than they had been before or have been since. Hawke, for example,
received no title at all for the battle of Quiberon, which relieved the
country from the fear of actual invasion. His barony was given him years
afterwards. It does not appear that Rodney thought himself shabbily
treated. He took his title from Rodney Stoke, but he did not close with
the offer of the Duke of Chandos. Lady Rodney did not like the climate
of Somerset, and the Admiral himself seems to have had no sentimental
feelings in the matter. He was content with Hampshire, which had always
been his country-quarters in England.

Rodney left the West Indies in July and reached Bristol, after a stormy
passage, in September. His reception at home consoled him, if unmeasured
popular applause was a consolation in such a case, for his summary
recall. The country had not had many opportunities of welcoming
victorious commanders in the course of this war. The good work done (and
it had been much) had not been of the brilliant kind, and had too often
ended in disaster. In Rodney’s case there was now no doubt. He had taken
a Spanish, a Dutch, and a French admiral--the last in the midst of a
great fleet and on board the finest three-decker in the world. More
liners had struck to him than to any English admiral since the elder
Byng scattered the Spaniards off Cape Passaro nearly seventy years
before. There was no shadow on this glory, and the nation gave way to
one of those bursts of enthusiasm over it and the man who bore it, in
which the phlegm of the English melts like “snaw off a dyke.” From the
day of his landing at Bristol till he retired from Court surfeited with
praise, he was surrounded by cheering crowds; and when the applause died
away it left a solid admiration and gratitude which endured to the end.

Rodney survived his triumphant return nearly ten years, but it is to be
feared that there was more glory than ease in the end of his life. The
lawsuits which sprang out of those unlucky transactions at St. Eustatius
followed him almost to the grave--they or their consequences, which were
pecuniary embarrassments. His gout too grew upon him, and before the
close had begun, according to a not improbable report, to affect his
understanding. Much of his time was spent at spas at home or abroad. In
1787, when there was again a prospect of war with France, he volunteered
to go on service, in spite of age and infirmities, if the King had need
of him. The offer was acknowledged with fitting courtesy by Pitt, but it
could not have been considered more than a sign of the veteran’s
goodwill. In 1789 he had again to write to Pitt. The King’s first
publicly known attack of madness had just occurred, and Rodney had taken
what he believed to be the right side for one who was “bred a
Royalist”--he had in fact acted with those who wished to give the
regency without limitations to the Prince of Wales. Immediately
afterwards he was informed that his son, Captain John Rodney, was likely
to be refused a guardship appointment as a punishment for his own
Parliamentary action. He wrote to the Prime Minister in very natural
indignation--and indeed such an act done on such a motive would have
been sufficiently ignoble, though perfectly in keeping with the practice
of the time. It does not seem, however, that, as a matter of fact,
Captain John Rodney ever wanted for commands.

The Admiral died on May 23rd, 1792, in his eldest son’s house, the
corner house of Prince’s Street and Hanover Square, of gout. He had
fainted with pain, and when he revived for a moment Sir Walter Farquhar,
his doctor, asked him if he did not feel better, to which he replied, “I
am very ill indeed,” and so “expired without a sigh or a struggle.”

If we look, as it is fair to look, to the importance of the great
victory which he won in 1782, there can be no difficulty in assigning
Rodney his place among English admirals. He ranks next to Blake and to
Nelson. From the time that the admiral of the Commonwealth defeated
Tromp in the three days’ battle which raged from Portland to Calais, no
victory of equally vital consequence had been won. Until Trafalgar,
which finally ruined Napoleon’s efforts to cross us at sea, no such
other was to be won. It may even, in a sense, be said with accuracy that
of the two the fight off Dominica was more important than Trafalgar. If
Villeneuve had never left Cadiz, the immense superiority of the English
fleet would not have been diminished in the least. Napoleon had broken
up the camp at Boulogne and marched into Germany before Trafalgar was
fought. He had renounced his intention of invading England already; and
Trafalgar, though a magnificent victory, was valuable rather as proving
to us and to the world that England was safe than as adding to our
existing safety. Moreover, it may be very reasonably doubted whether,
without the encouraging example set by Rodney, our admirals of the
Revolutionary War would have manœuvred as boldly as they did. The
influence of that day is felt at once if we pass from any of the battles
fought before it to Howe’s victory on June 1st. Howe was by nature a
circumspect man. He had expressly stated after reading Clerk of Eldin
that, though it was all very ingenious, he for his part meant to keep to
the old way. Yet, as a matter of fact, he departed widely from the old
way, and won such a victory as would not have been possible if he had
stuck to it. The deduction that he was led by the example of Rodney is
irresistible. Indeed the battle of April 12th was a turning-point in the
history of naval warfare. From that time forward we hear nothing more
of the pedantic old fighting orders. Admirals manœuvred to beat the
enemy, and not to keep their own line intact.

A man who commanded on so great an occasion must for ever receive his
share of honour. Yet the devil’s advocate asks whether the occasion was
not greater than the man, and it cannot be denied that he has a case. As
Rodney himself said afterwards, with rare honesty and self-knowledge,
the victory was largely won by accident. It was not thought out and done
on a plan. His orders show that the Admiral meant to fight on the old
method. He departed from it because the wind had disordered the enemy
for him. He did not deliberately break the enemy up as Howe did on June
1st, as Nelson did at Trafalgar. He himself never showed any particular
pride in his great victory. Whatever evidence there is goes to prove
that he wished to be judged, not by the battle he won, but by the plan
he laid to defeat Guichen on April 17th, 1780. That battle, he felt,
would have been won by headpiece and not by luck. It was a very just
distinction, and Rodney’s glory will not be really affected if he is
judged by the test he preferred. The plan of battle for the 17th was a
good one, and shows that he was a tactician, though it also shows his
limitations. As a tactician his glory is that he endeavoured to use the
old tactics with intelligence. But he was not an innovator.

As a commander he ranks much higher. He could take the great line,
looking to what was for the best when the war was considered as a whole.
His watch was vigilant; his pursuit was close. He could select from
among the objects to be attained the most important, and could refuse to
be drawn off by the less vital. His measures were not uniformly well
taken, and for one interval of his life his spirit was dimmed; but, on
the whole, he was an energetic leader, differing in kind from such a man
as Arbuthnot, and in degree from such an officer as Hughes, the very
valiant, very tough, but, alas! very commonplace admiral who was pitted
against Souffren in the East Indies. Perhaps the most really honourable
to him of all his feats was the destruction of Langara’s squadron. He
had an overwhelming superiority of numbers, no doubt, but the
determination to pursue through the night and the storm on to a lee
shore, the resolution to run the risk for a sufficient object, were
worthy of his old leader Hawke--and more than that no man can say.

Personally Rodney was a very complete example of that aristocracy which
governed England through the eighteenth century--with much selfishness
and much corruption, no doubt, yet in the main with a high spirit, with
foresight, with statesmanship, and with glory. It would be absurd to say
that he was indifferent to place or money. He desired them both, and
avowed the desire frankly. He was not, in a favourite modern phrase,
sympathetic. There was about him a certain irritable promptitude to
assert his own dignity, and one gathers that he rather enjoyed inspiring
fear. Yet, like many men who are proud in place and office, he was kind
to those who were dependent on him--to his children, to his wife, and to
such friends as Gilbert Blane. He had that sense of the becoming in
manners which rarely fails an aristocracy. Whatever he may have said to
Douglas or of Hood in private, he gave them their praise before the
world in full measure. But the great redeeming quality in Rodney and in
all that aristocratic class to which he belonged was this, that they did
combine with their self-seeking a very high public spirit. They would
intrigue for place, and would in matters of detail allow the interest of
“the connection” to go before the good of the State; but when they spoke
for their country to the foreigner, then they thought only of the
greatness of England. For that greatness Rodney fought and would
willingly have died. For it, and at a time of dire need, he, at the head
of a force he helped to perfect, did a very great thing. For that his
name should never be forgotten by Englishmen.

                                THE END

                _Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_.

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 [A] The reader must be warned at this point that the battle of April
 12th, 1782, has been the subject of a long and angry controversy. It
 was promoted partly by the zeal of certain Scotchmen, partly by the
 filial piety of General Sir Howard Douglas, the well-known writer on
 gunnery, son of Sir Charles Douglas, who was Rodney’s captain of the
 fleet. The matter in dispute was the respective claims of Clerk of
 Eldin and Sir Charles Douglas to the credit of inspiring or guiding
 the Admiral at the critical moment of the battle. As is usually the
 case, the controversy has been marked by much angry contradiction,
 much confusion between matters of fact and matters of opinion, much
 lax use of words on both sides. Of the witnesses quoted, some are only
 accessible at second hand, some were boys at the time of the battle
 who gave their evidence years afterwards; one who was not a boy, and
 told his story immediately afterwards, is suspected, because he had
 reasons of a personal character to regard Rodney with animosity. I
 have not thought it necessary to enter into the controversy in this
 narrative, but have endeavoured to the best of my ability to make the
 battle out from all the evidence, and tell it as, to me, it appears to
 have passed. The bulk of the evidence will be found in the _Quarterly
 Review_ for January 1830, the _Edinburgh Review_ for April 1830, the
 _United Service Magazine_, vols. xi. and xiii., and in the various
 _Statements_ of Sir Howard Douglas. Full accounts of the battle are to
 be found in Beatson’s _Annals_, vol. vi., in Captain White’s _Naval
 Researches_, and in Captain Matthews’ plans of the naval battles of
 the war. These two officers were both present.

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

cuttlasses, and amunition=>cuttlasses, and ammunition {pg 31}

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