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History of HMS Victory, Imminent peril of the Victory – Part Six

Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood (12 December 1724 – 27 January 1816). 1784 portrait by James Northcote
Chrono date: 
1794 Jan 24

In all these operations the men of the Victory, if not the ship herself, bore an active part, as they were landed, And helped to man the batteries with the other ship’s companies, and suffered great losses in the continual bombardment to which they were exposed. On one occasion, indeed, the ship was like to have become the heroine of an adventure which might have ended her days, for, on October 23rd, in one of the disputes, which, as might be expected, were not unfrequent between our quondam enemies the Spaniards and ourselves, Don Juan de Langara, the Spanish Admiral, placed three of his three-deckers round the Victory, as she lay in the outer road of Toulon, as a “gentle moral persuasion” on behalf of his demands. As the English fleet at that time was reduced by the absence of detachments to 10 sails, and their crews were weakened by the landing parties, the Spanish Admiral with his 17 sail, could have destroyed our ships, had he dared to carry matters so far; but Lord Hood was firm, and the Spanish ships resumed their former positions without any further demonstrations.

The British fleet now withdrew to Hyeres, where they lay and revictualled; and on the 24th of January, 1794, thinking that something might yet be done to assist the royalist faction in Corsica, Lord Hood proceeded with a fleet of 60 sail, including transports, for the Bay of Fiorenzo. While on the passage, a furious gale arose which dispersed them, and the Victory, amongst others, was nearly disabled, losing her mainyard and many of her sails, and was at one time in danger of being lost. The scattered fleet put into Porto Ferrajo on the 29th. Detachments of ships were sent from here, with the troops, to attack San Fiorenzo, the principal port of Corsica; and on the 19th February, after standing a bombardment of eleven days, this town capitulated. By this time the Victory herself had Arrived.

Lord Hood then tried to persuade General Dundas, who commanded the troops, of the practicability of taking Bastia, the capital of the island; but that officer differed, and not only refused to take any part in the attempt, but would not even lend a mortar or gun, or any stores for the service, so that Hood had actually to send to Naples for these most necessary articles for a siege; for, probably believing that the energy of Nelson, then Captain of the HMS Agamemnon who had borne a most prominent part in these previous undertakings, was sufficient to carry anything through with success, the Admiral determined to attempt it alone with his sailors, and 10OO men of different regiments who were embarked in the ship as marines. He cruised in the Victory for some days, before Bastia, and then returned to San Fiorenzo, leaving everything to the direction of Nelson, who worked as he always did, untiringly. On April 4th Hood again went round and assisted with his men, etc., in raising the shore batteries; and on the 11th, when all was ready, a boat from the Victory went in to demand the capitulation of the town. This was refused with scorn, by the brave Frenchman, St. Michel, who replied, that he “had red-hot shot for our ships, and bayonets for our men;” the Victory, on receiving this reply, hoisted a red flag, the preconcerted signal, and immediately the batteries opened. The town replied, and for some weeks the siege went on with varying success.

During this period Geaeral D’Aubant, who had succeeded General Dundas, would ride over with his staff from San Fiorenzo, a distance of only twelve miles, and watch the operations, his own men remaining inactive the while, and it was his extraordinary conduct that urged the seamen to exertions of which they might otherwise have been incapable. The fire of the besiegers grew hotter and hotter; new batteries were erected, and guns mounted on heights deemed insurmountable, and on 19th May, their efforts were rewarded by a boat from the town coming on board the Victory, with a proposal of surrender.

The preliminaries were speedily arranged, and on the 22nd the town and two frigates were given up. “When I reflect on what we have achieved” says Nelson in a letter to his wife, “I am all astonishment. I always was of opinion, have ever acted up to it, and never have had any reason to repent it, that one Englishman was equal to three Frenchmen.”

Calvi, the other principal town in Corsica, was now looked upon as a desirable acquisition, but before anything could be done, Hood received intelligence that the French fleet had left Toulon, and immediately sailed in pursuit. He met Admiral Hotham’s squadron next day, and with 13 sail of the line, sighted the Frenchmen on June 10th. The enemy were chased for two days, but before they could be overtaken they escaped into Gourjean Bay, where it was found impossible to attack them, and Lord Hood returned with the Victory and three other ships to Martello Bay, leaving Vice-Admiral Hotham, with the remainder, to watch the French, which we may remark, he did for five months without success.

Nelson had been sent back to Bastia with his ship, as soon as the inferiority of the enemy’s fleet had been ascertained, and as General Stuart, who had arrived with a reinforcement, and was now in command of the troops, was a very different man to either of his successors, and as anxious as Nelson himself to lose no time in attacking Calvi, the HMS Agamemnon and transports went at once from Bastia to a small bay about 3 miles from Calvi, where they arrived on June 19th, and proceeded to land. On the same day the Victory and HMS Britannia anchored in Martello Bay, and after sending parties of men by land to join Stuart and Nelson, they came round to Calvi on the 27th, with all the munitions of war they could muster, and lay off and on during the siege.

The Victory landed 7 of her own lower deck guns for the batteries, as well as some guns she had from the HMS Commerce de Marseilles, and sent a strong party of seamen to assist, but was not able to get into action herself from the strength of the sea defences of the town. The seamen from HMS Agamemnon, HMS Victory, and transports, guided and incited by Nelson’s indomitable energy, again performed prodigies in the way of work; they once more dragged guns up to positions considered by the troops unattainable, made the batteries, and fought them, and gained the warm praise and thanks of General Stuart, for the valuable assistance they afforded.

The town surrendered on August 10th, after enduring a siege of 51 days. In these operations, several officers and men of the Victory were killed and wounded.

Nelson himself was nearly slain, but got off with the loss of an eye. His wound was never reported, and he only casually mentioned that he had received a slight hurt which laid him up one day. All this time, Lord Hood, on whose health the anxious work at Toulon had told considerably, remained on board the Victory and sent supplies to the shore parties when required. The ship was once blown off by a gale, but resumed her position after an absence of a week.

The HMS Victory next proceeded to Genoa, and in the first week of November, she left for England, taking Lord Hood with her, his health not being able to stand the fatigues of the command any longer. She arrived at Portsmouth in December, and Lord Hood went on leave, but rehoisted his flag on the 14th April following, after the ship had had a thorough refit.

On May 1st, 1795, the Victory was again a spectator of the destruction of a sister first rate, the Boyne of 98 guns, which caught fire and blew up at Spithead, where remnants of her remain to this day off Southsea Castle, marked by a green buoy.

On 2nd of May, as Lord Hood was on the point of leaving to resume his command, he was ordered to strike his flag, and HMS Victory sailed out on 24th May, as a private ship, (A “private” ship is a man-of-war that does not have an Admiral on board), with Rear-Admiral Man, who was taking a reinforcement out to Admiral Hotham, then confirmed Commander-in- Chief in the Mediterranean. Man joined Hotham’s fleet off Minorca on June 14th, and on 8th July, on the fleet weighing from San Fiorenzo Bay, to pursue the enemy, he shifted his flag to the Victory.

The French fleet of 17 sail, under Admiral Martin, were sighted off Hyeres at daylight on July 13th, and the signal for a general chase was thrown out by the Britannia Admiral Hotham’s flagship.

The Victory was always celebrated for her good sailing qualities, and on this occasion they shone out particularly conspicuous, for, at half-past noon, she, with the HMS Culloden and HMS Cumberland came within range of the rearmost of the enemy, while the rest of their companions were astern at distances ranging from 1 to 9 miles, the Commander- in-Chief being one of the farthest, for the Britannia, was as bad a sailer as the Victory was a good one. They opened fire, but at this moment the wind unfortunately failed, and they were unable to get into close action, though at the end of an hour the Alcide, a seventy-four, struck. They still hoped to make more prizes, but had by four o’clock drifted so near the shore, that the signal to discontinue the action was made, and the French escaped through the shoals, the passages between which they were familiar with, into Frejus Bay.

The Alcide, which had made a most gallant defence, unluckily took fire shortly after striking, and blew up with the loss of all her crew, save 200. In the skirmish, the Victory was the greatest sufferer, having her rigging much cut, and all her lower masts badly wounded. She lost 5 killed (2 officers), and 16 wounded.

Man retained his flag in her until October, when he shifted to the HMS Windsor Castle, and was succeeded by Vice- Admiral Robert Linzee, who flew his flag in the Victory for a month only. During this period she was cruising with a fleet, watching Toulon, and going from port to port in that vicinity, until the 3rd of December, 1795, when being at San Fiorenzo in Corsica, Sir John Jervis, who had arrived from England a few days before, hoisted his flag in her as Commander-in-Chief, and at once proceeded off Toulon. He remained cruising between that port and Minorca, with a fleet of about 13 sail, until the autumn of 1796, but up to this time no incidents took place that are worth recording.

 

Reference

  • Captain W.J.L. Wharton, RN, A Short History of HMS Victory, Portsmouth, Griffin & Co,2, The Hard, Portsmouth.

 

History of HMS Victory  – Part One

History of HMS Victory, Early Career – Part Two

History of HMS Victory, Engagement with the French off Ushant – Part Three

History of HMS Victory, Siege of Gibraltar – Part Four

History of HMS Victory, Occupation of Toulon – Part Five

History of HMS Victory, Imminent peril of the Victory – Part Six

History of HMS Victory, Battle of Cape St. Vincent – Part Seven

History of HMS Victory, Blockade of Toulon – Part Eight

History of HMS Victory, Nelson’s pursuit to the West Indies - Part Nine

History of HMS Victory, Battle of Trafalgar – Part Ten

History of HMS Victory, Death of Nelson – Part Eleven

History of HMS Victory, Damage sustained by Victory – Part Twelve

History of HMS Victory, Victory again in Active Service – Part Thirteen