NAVAL HISTORY OF GREAT BRITAIN VOL. III - 1800 - early months of 1805
BY WILLIAM JAMESpages 237, 238
On the 13th of June, in the afternoon, two strange ships having been signalled as under sail off the east end of the island of Porquerolles, Lord Nelson, who, with the in-shore or lee division, consisting of the Victory, Canopus, Belleisle, Donegal, and Excellent, lay off the Hyères, while Sir Richard Bickerton, with the weather division, also of five sail of the line, cruised about 20 leagues from the land, ordered the frigates Amazon and Phœbe, the latter commanded by Captain the Honourable Thomas Bladen Capel, to proceed in chase. Light winds made it noon on the following day, the 14th, before the two frigates reached the entrance of the Grande-Passe ; and soon afterwards, it being signalled that the strangers were frigates, and known that batteries were near them, Lord Nelson directed the Excellent to lend her aid to the Amazon and Phœbe. At 5 P. M. the two French frigates, Incorruptible and Sirène, and 18-gun brig-corvette Furet, were seen at anchor under the castle of Porquerolles. At 5 h. 30 m. P. M. one of the forts fired at the Phœbe, but the shot did not reach her. In another quarter of an hour both British frigates having cleared for action, anchored with springs on their cables, just out of gun-shot of the northmost fort. Scarcely had the frigates done this, than the whole French fleet in Toulon road was discovered getting under way. The Amazon and Phœbe immediately re-weighed, and stood out to sea. The Excellent, having also been recalled by signal, put about and rejoined her division ; which, since 4 h. 30 m., had bore up, with the wind at west-south-west, under all sail, for the Grande-Passe.
At 5 P. M., or soon after, the Victory and the ships with her, observing the French admiral coming out of Toulon with eight sail of the line and four frigates, shortened sail and hauled to the wind, in line of battle, on the starboard tack. At 8 P. M. Cape Sicie bore from the Victory north-west by west distant seven leagues ; and at 1 h. 30 m. A. M. on the 15th, having wore and tacked several times, the lee division hove to. At 3 h. 45 m. A. M. Lord Nelson again made sail, and at noon was only 11 miles to the westward of the north-west end of Porquerolles:
At 5 P. M. the Amazon and Phœbe joined the vice-admiral ; at which time the French fleet, counted at 14 sail of ships, was standing off and on between Cape Sepet and the last-named island. At 6 P. M. the lee division again hove to for a short time. At 7 P. M. the Incorruptible, Sirène, and Furet joined their fleet ; which, having effected the apparent object of the sally, now stood back into port, and was followed, until well inside of Sepet, by Lord Nelson and his division.
This would have passed off as an occurrence of no moment, had not M. La Touche-Tréville thought proper to make it the subject of an official communication to his government. He admits having sent the two frigates and a brig-corvette to cruise in the bay of Hyères; as well as that he sailed out, with the whole of his fleet, to prevent their retreat from being cut off by a line-of-battle ship and two frigates detached by Lord Nelson. He states truly, that the latter, upon this, recalled his detached ships, but most untruly, that the British admiral " ran away. "
What Lord Nelson thought of the French admiral's exploit may be gathered from a letter which, on the 18th of June, he wrote to Sir John Acton: " Mons. La Touche came out on the 14th. I was off the Hières with five ships ; he had eight of the line and six frigates. In the evening he stood under Sepet again, and, I believe I may call it, we chased him into Toulon the morning of the 15th. I am satisfied he meant nothing beyond a gasconade ; but am confident, when he is ordered for any service, that he will risk falling in with us, and the event of a battle, to try and accomplish his orders. " * It was not until some weeks after the date of this letter that Lord Nelson saw a copy of the official one of M. La Touche. † The statement of the French admiral gave his lordship much more concern than it ought to have done ; so much indeed, that he transmitted a copy of the Victory's log to the admiralty. It was sufficient for M. La Touche that his assertion, taken in a larger sense than he had probably anticipated, that of having chased the British admiral with all the latter's 10 sail of the line present, gained credence in a quarter which immediately promoted him from " un grand officier de la légion d'honneur," to " un grand officier de l'empire," and conferred upon him, also, the lucrative appointment of " inspecteur des côtes de la Méditerranée."
Version Francaise de cet engagement
A bord du Bucentaure en rade du Toulon, le 26 prairial, an 12.
J'ai l'honneur de vous rendre compte de la sortie de toute l'escadre à mes ordres. Sur l'avis que j'avais reçu que plusieurs corsaires anglais infestaient la côte et les îles d'Hières, je donnai l'ordre, il y a trois jours, aux frégates l'Incorruptible et la Syrène, et le brick le Furet, de se rendre dans la baie d'Hières. Le vents d'est les ayant contrariées, elles mouillèrent sous le château de Porqueroles. Hier matin, les ennemis en eurent connaissance. Vers midi, ils détachèrent deux frégates et un vaisseau, qui entrèrent par la grande passe, dans l'intention de couper la retraite à nos frégates. Du moment où je m'aperçus de sa manœuvre, je fis signal d'appareiller à toute l'escadre ; ce qui fut exécuté. En 14 minutes, tout était sous voiles, et je fis porter sur l'ennemi pour lui couper le chemin de la petite passe, et dans le dessein de l'y suivre s'il avait tenté d'y passer ; mais l'amiral anglais ne tarda pas à renoncer à son projet, rappela son vaisseau et ses deux frégates engagés dans l'ile, et prit chasse. Je l'ai poursuivi jusqu'à la nuit : il courait au sud-est. Le matin, au jour, je n'en ai eu aucune connaissance.
Je vous salue avec respect,