1761 - British expedition against Dominica
The campaign took place in June 1761
For the campaign of 1761, the British Royal Navy was deployed as follows in the West Indies:
- Rear-admiral Charles Holmes at Jamaica
- Commodore Sir James Douglas on the Leeward Islands' station
By the end of 1760, the conquest of Canada was completed and a great number of British troops were left idle in North America.
Already in the middle of December 1760, Pitt had warned Amherst to place the North American garrisons in the hands of provincial troops in order to free the greater part of the regulars for an expedition either against Mobile and the Mississippi, or Martinique and the other French islands in the West Indies.
On January 7 1761, after Frederick's proposal had been received, Pitt informed Amherst more definitely that the expedition was to be directed against Martinique. Such an attempt, however, could not be made until after the hurricane months that is, not till the end of September or the beginning of October.
" In the meantime," Pitt wrote, " as it would be highly expedient for the good of his Majesty's affairs if some interesting attempt could be made with success during the earlier part of the year, the impression whereof could not but have a very beneficial influence in Europe both at home and abroad," he was to endeavour to get away 2,000 troops at once, and in cooperation with the governor of Guadeloupe and Sir James Douglas, who was commodore on the Leeward Islands station, to seize Dominica, and, if possible, Sainte-Lucie. To do so, it was necessary that the expeditionary force should be on the spot by the end of May at latest.
Furthermore, Amherst had to despatch another 6,000 men later in the year for the capture of Martinique. Indeed, little of moment happened in North America in 1761, the chief business of the British fleet of North America, under the command of Commodore Lord Colville, being to convoy troops to the West Indies.
In the first days of June 1761, transports from America began to drop singly into Guadeloupe, the fleet having been dispersed by a storm.
By June 3, four ships had arrived, together with Lord Rollo, who had been appointed by Amherst to take the command. Meanwhile, on the Leeward Islands' station, Commodore Sir James Douglas had been reinforced by 4 sail of the line and 3 frigates:
- Stirling Castle (70), Captain Michael Everitt
- Norwich (50), Captain William McLeverty
- Falkland (50), Captain Francis Samuel Drake
- Sutherland (50), Captain Julian Legge
- Penzance (44), Captain John Boyd (acting)
- Repulse (32), Captain John Carter Allen
- Lizard (28), Captain James Doake
On June 4, the whole of these British ships, together with one additional ship from Guadeloupe itself, made sail under escort of Sir James Douglas's squadron to beat back against the trade wind to Dominica. The force consisted of:
- a detachment from the garrison of Guadeloupe (300 men from the 4th Foot or 65th Foot)
- 77th Montgomery's Highlanders (400 men)
- 22nd Regiment of Foot
- 94th Vaughan's Regiment of Foot (aka Royal Welsh Volunteers)
- a detachment of the Royal Regiment of Artillery
- detachments of rangers (unidentified units)
On the morning of June 6, the expedition was off Roseau, which the French had made the capital of Dominica. Approaching the Dominica, the Stirling Castle (70) stood away to the windward to make sure that no French reinforcements would be thrown into the island. At 1:00 PM, Rollo sent a flag of truce on shore to summon the inhabitants to surrender and to inform them that he intended to land troops on the island where they would take quarters. The French replied by manning their batteries and other defences, which included four separate lines of entrenchments, ranged one above another. At 4:00 PM, 700 British troops landed covered by the men of war. During the landing, the French opened fire on the British infantry and the men of war returned fire. Fearing that the French might be reinforced in the night, Rollo resolved, though it was already late, to storm the entrenchments immediately. The British infantry formed and attacked a battery of two 12-pdrs planted on a steep hill and defended by three lines of entrenchments. These strong entrenchments were out of range of the British fleet. Nevertheless, the British grenadiers ascended a very narrow and steep foot path and assaulted the position. After firing a few shots, the French abandoned their entrenchments and battery which were soon occupied by the British infantry. The French commander and his second were both taken prisoners. After this engagement, resistance ceased. In this action the British lost 2 men killed and a few wounded. The British then pursued the French and plundered the governor's estate. A few men were left behind to occupy the town of Roseau and some men of the 77th Montgomery's Highlanders to guard the captured battery. The 22nd Regiment of Foot and the detachment from the garrison of Guadeloupe occupied the hill.
On the morning of June 7, detachments were sent to locate the inhabitants and to convince them to surrender. Capitulation was finally agreed and Dominica swore allegiance to king George III. British troops were authorised to plunder till 12:00.
The capture of Dominica was one of naval value. Being a neutral island under the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, and only recently occupied by the French, the island was not intrinsically rich, but in Prince Rupert's Bay it could boast an unrivalled roadstead admirably placed. It had, moreover, become a paradise for French privateers, and failing Sainte-Lucie, which it was then too late to attempt, no island afforded a better strategical position, if war in the West Indies was to be renewed with Spain and France. This was all beside its political value at the moment. So soon as it was in his hands Douglas sent a vessel home with the news, apologising that as they had heard many reports of a congress he thought it best to let the government know as soon as possible of their "little acquisition," as he called it.
A few days later, the rest of the British fleet which had been separated by a gale of wind, arrived at Dominica, escorted by the Falkland (50).
The detachment from the garrison of Guadeloupe returned to Fort Royal in Guadeloupe.
During the rest of the summer, operations were chiefly confined to the protection of trade, and the repression of privateering. On the Jamaica station there were several single-ship encounters, but no occurrences of first-rate importance.
Towards the end of the year, it having been determined to prosecute a more active and offensive policy, and to largely increase the force among the West India Islands, Rear-admiral Rodney was appointed to the command.
On November 21, Rear-admiral Charles Holmes, commanding at Jamaica, died being succeeded in command by the senior officer, Captain Arthur Forrest, of the Centaur (74), pending the arrival of Sir James Douglas, replaced by Rodney at Barbados.
On November 22, Rear-admiral Rodney arrived at Carlisle Bay, Barbados, where he was presently joined by the Téméraire (74) and Acteon (28), with troops from Belle-Isle, and by a military force from North America under Major-general Moncton.
This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Anonymous, Particular description of the several descents on the coast of France last war; with an entertaining account of the islands of Guadeloupe, Dominique, etc., E. & C. Dilly, London, 1770, pp. 70-73
- Clowes, Wm. Laird, The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 232-237
- Corbett, Julian S.; England in the Seven Years' War – A Study in Combined Strategy, Vol II; New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907; pp. 143, 177-178
- Fortescue J. W., A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 537-538.