1762 - British expedition against Martinique
The campaign lasted from January to February 1762
The French empire in North America had ceased to exist and its disappearance had rendered unnecessary the presence on the spot of part of the large body of troops which had been concerned in the conquest of Canada. It had been decided to employ some of them against the French islands in the West Indies.
In 1760, the French sent reinforcements to the West Indies under Lieutenant-colonel Baron d'Huart. These reinforcements consisted of various detachments from the Grenadiers Royaux, more precisely:
- Grenadiers Royaux de Longaunay (358 men)
- Grenadiers Royaux d'Ally (308 men)
- Grenadiers Royaux de Méhégan (104 men)
After the surrender of Dominica in June 1761 to a British expeditionary force. The French in Martinique fully expected this same expedition to head into their direction. Accordingly, they took measures for their defence. The French force in Martinique consisted of 1,100 regulars (700 Grenadiers Royaux and 300 men of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, including 2 companies of Canonniers-Bombardiers de la Marine raised in Martinique and 1 company of about 100 men of Hallwyl Infanterie), 7,000 local militia and 4,000 hired corsairs. Furthermore, the mountainous nature of the island made it rather easy to defend.
In July 1761, Pitt sent his last orders to General Amherst and Admiral Colville, on the American station, for the despatch of 10 battalions with artillery and engineers to Barbados, where they were to find their orders. At the same time Sir James Douglas, who was still in command in the Leeward Islands, was told to expect them at Guadeloupe by the end of October. Douglas was also informed that the French were preparing two squadrons, one at Brest and one at Rochefort, each consisting of about 7 ships of the line, which were intended for the succour of Martinique and that, if they escaped the home blockade, he was to station a squadron off the island strong enough to deal with them. General Monckton, who was bringing the troops from America, was to command in chief ashore, and he was to arrange with him for a rendezvous. Furthermore, orders were issued to Belle-Isle for 4 regiments to be sent off immediately, and for Swanton and 5 other captains to join Douglas, and finally to Rodney to hoist his flag and proceed to Guadeloupe to take Douglas and the whole naval force under his command.
The neighbouring British islands did what they could to help the mother-country:
- Antigua sent black peoples and part of her old garrison, the 38th Regiment of Foot which had never left the island since Queen Anne's day;
- Barbados raised 500 black peoples and 500 white men which were the more acceptable since that island was, as usual, the rendezvous for the expedition.
Preparation of the expedition
On October 9 1761, Rear-admiral Rodney hoisted his flag at Portsmouth and left England.
In mid November, the 4th Foot and the 65th Foot, garrisoning Guadeloupe Island, were ordered to send 200 men to Barbados where they would wait for the arrival of an amphibious force destined to an expedition against the Martinique island.
On November 22, Rodney, ignoring the turn things had taken in Europe, arrived in Carlisle Bay, Barbados. He was alone. His squadron had been scattered in a gale and foul winds had seriously delayed its passage. However at Carlisle Bay, Rodney found part of the squadron under Commodore Sir James Douglas waiting for him. He had been there all the month with cruisers watching Martinique and his battle squadron ready to sail, according to his previous orders, the moment he heard of the escape of a squadron from Brest or Rochefort. He had made up his mind, when he still believed he was to be in command of the attempt against Martinique, that the first thing to do, so soon as Monckton arrived from America, was to make feints in various parts of the island. The idea apparently commended itself to Rodney, for directly he had communicated with Douglas he despatched him to blockade Saint-Pierre, the capital of the island, and to destroy the batteries there, although it was not his real objective.
Then followed a long wait while Rodney's scattered forces gathered at Barbados. Rodney employed it hiring and fitting out an improvised force of 10 local armed hired sloops to supply his weakness in small cruisers, and these he sent, partly to search the creeks of Martinique and partly to cruise off Sint Eustatius to prevent the Dutch from assisting the French with supplies and provisions.
By December 9, all Rodney's squadron joined, being 3 ships of the line, with 2 cruisers and 3 bomb-vessels.
On December 14, the Téméraire (74) and a frigate arrived in Carlisle Bay, with the transports from Belle-Isle and the troops consisting of:
- 69th Regiment of Foot
- II./76th Rufane’s Regiment of Foot
- 90th Morgan’s Regiment of Foot
- 98th Grey’s Regiment of Foot
On December 23, a French squadron of 7 sail of the line and 4 frigates, under M. de Courbon-Blénac, transporting 3,000 troop, had escaped from Brest, owing to Commodore Spry having been driven from his station off that port; and was on its way to relieve the French islands of the West Indies. This French squadron consisted of:
- Duc-de-Bourgogne (80)
- Défenseur (74)
- Hector (74)
- Diadème (74) or Palmier (74)
- Protée (64)
- Dragon (64)
- Brillant (64)
- Zéphyr (32)
- Diligente (24)
- Opale (26)
- Calypso (16)
This relief expedition transported about 3,000 men:
- Boulonnais Infanterie (1 bn)
- Foix Infanterie (1 bn)
- Quercy Infanterie (1 bn)
- Compagnies Franches de la Marine (unspecified number of coys) Brest was one of the main garrisons of these units
- Canonniers-Bombardiers de la Marine (2 coys, each of 60 men)
After M. de Courbon-Blénac's escape from Brest, he sailed for Martinique, chased by Commodore Spry. However, the latter's provisions threatening to give out, he had to return to England, having first sent the Aquilon (28), Captain Chaloner Ogle, to inform Rodney of this event (the news would not reach Rodney before mid-March).
On December 24 1761, the main army from America under command of General Monckton arrived in Carlisle Bay, escorted by 3 ships of the line and a 40-gun ship from Colville's squadron. This army was made up of eleven different regiments:
- 15th Amherst's Regiment of Foot
- 17th Regiment of Foot
- 27th Inniskilling Regiment of Foot
- 28th Townshend's Regiment of Foot
- 35th Regiment of Foot
- 40th Armiger's Regiment of Foot
- 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot (2 bns)
- 43rd Talbot's Regiment of Foot
- 46th Thomas Murray's Regiment of Foot
- III./60th Royal American Regiment of Foot
- American rangers (2 unidentified coys)
Shortly afterwards, Lord Rollo joined with the troops from Guadeloupe and Antigua. The expeditionary force was then complete. In all, the force entrusted to Monckton must have amounted to fully 13,000 men, besides about 1,000 volunteers and black peoples raised by the authorities at Barbados.
For his part, Rodney was at the head of an important fleet consisting of:
- Marlborough (68), Rear-admiral G. B. Rodney and Captain John Hollwell
- Dublin (74), Commodore Sir James Douglas and Captain Gascoigne
- Foudroyant (80), Captain Robert Duff
- Dragon (74), Captain Hon. Aug. John Hervey
- Téméraire (74), Captain Matthew Barton
- Temple (70), Captain Lucius O'Brien
- Vanguard (70), Captain Robert Swanton
- Modeste (64), Captain Hon. Rob. Boyle Walshingham
- Stirling Castle (70), Captain Michael Everitt
- Devonshire (74), Captain George Darby
- Raisonnable (64), Captain Molyneux Shuldham
- Alcide (64), Captain Thomas Haukerson
- Nottingham (60), Captain Samuel Marshall
- Rochester (50), Captain Thomas Burnett
- Sutherland (50), Captain Julian Legge
- Norwich (50), Captain William M'Cleverty
- Falkland (50), Captain Francis Samuel Drake
- Woolwich (44), Captain William Bayne
- Penzance (44), Captain Johyn Boyd
- Dover (44), Captain Chaloner Ogle
- Echo (26), Captain John Laforey
- Stag (32), Captain Henry Augell
- Repulse (32), Captain John Carter Allen
- Actaeon (28), Captain Paul Henry Ourry
- Crescent (28), Captain Thomas Collingwood
- Lizard (28), Captain James Doake
- Levant (28), Captain William Tucker
- Nightingale (24), Captain James Campbell
- Fowey (24), Captain Joseph Mead
- Greyhound (24), Captain Thomas Francis
- Rose (24), Captain Francis Bank
- Antigua (10), Captain John Neale Pleydell Nott
- Barbados (14), Commander Stair Douglas
- Ferret (14), Commander James Alms
- Virgin (12), unidentified commander
- Zephyr (10), Commander John Botterell
- Basilisk bomb (8), Commander Robert Brice
- Thunder bomb (8), Lieutenant Robert Haswell
- Grenado bomb (8), Lieutenant James Hawker
- Infernal bomb (8), Commander James Mackenzie
On January 5 1762, after a few days required to water the fleet, the British transports having on board nearly 14,000 troops from England, Belle-Isle, North America and the West Indies, under Major-general Robert Monckton, weighed anchor and sailed away from Barbados to leeward, under escort of Admiral Rodney's fleet, past the Pitons of Sainte-Lucie and past the port of Castries.
Arrival of the British amphibious force off Martinique
On January 7, the British amphibious force joined Douglas off Martinique. The coasts of the island had not been properly reconnoitred, nor had the ships adequate charts on board. The configuration of the island and the nature of its defences rendered it desirable to land the troops as close as possible to the places at which they were to be employed. But, at first, this fact was not realised.
On January 8, Rodney's fleet anchored in Saint-Pierre's Bay. There they found Douglas had silenced the batteries, though with the loss of the Raisonnable (64) which a clumsy pilot had run aground as she was leading-in for the French forts. But, as has been said, there was no intention of proceeding further. "Having," says Rodney, "by the motion of the fleet and army taken possession of an excellent harbour, and secured a landing in the northernmost part of the island, which might be made tenable at any time, and likewise thereby greatly alarmed the enemy, at General Monckton's request I despatched Commodore Swanton with a squadron of ships and two brigades to the Bay of Petite Anse, in order to take post there." Petite Anse d'Arlet was in the extreme south-west of the island, below Fort Royal, the naval station which was the real objective. To confuse the French still further a squadron of 5 large frigates was sent to Sainte-Marie La Trinité, a port almost opposite Saint-Pierre, on the windward side of the island, with orders to threaten a landing, and Swanton was directed to fly a flag similar to the admiral's.
On January 10, Rodney himself, so soon as his detachments were away, took the mass of the fleet round Swanton, and came to anchor in Sainte-Anne's Bay, in the extreme south of the island, on the western side. The same day, after Swanton had silenced the batteries at Petite Anse d'Arlet, he sent Hervey into the adjoining Grande Anse, which lay immediately to the north and nearer still to the objective. Here the little batteries were quickly silenced and two brigades landed, for from this point it was intended to make the real attack on Fort Royal over-land. A direct attack from the sea was impossible, for in the mouth of the Bay, on its south side, stood a high rocky island known as Isle des Ramiers. It was crowned by a battery of heavy guns, which effectually barred the entrance to a hostile fleet. Consequently the reduction of this work was regarded as the first step to be taken. The idea was to land the troops at a point known as Sainte-Luce, on the southern shore of the island, close to Anse-à-l'Âne. Hence in distance it was but a day's march to Fort Royal Bay. This method of getting at Isle des Ramiers, therefore, looked feasible enough; but no reconnoitring had been done in advance, and they were quite unaware that the country over which they meant to pass was so deeply scored with ravines and rocky ridges as to be impassable for artillery. The troops marched to the south of the bay that forms the harbour of Fort Royal but it was soon found that the road was impracticable for transport of guns and that the march across to Fort Royal from Anse-à-l'Âne would be an undertaking too difficult to be entered upon. It was resolved, therefore, to try again to the westward. The works which had been erected at Anse-à-l'Âne were therefore blown up, the troops were re-embarked, and the whole force proceeded to Fort Royal Bay.
At the new point a footing had already been established by Brigadier Haviland. The indefatigable Hervey, too, had come out with Swanton. With his wonted energy, he had promptly silenced the battery and occupied it with his marines. Troops quickly followed from Haviland in support, and, marching inland, they seized Gros Point (aka Fort de la Pointe du Bout), immediately opposite Isle des Ramiers. But here it was the same story. The officer in command reported the country quite impracticable for artillery, and suggested his return to Haviland and Swanton's ships. While waiting for orders, he was attacked by troops sent from Fort Royal across the Bay; but he easily drove them off, and eventually retired unmolested. It was unpleasant news for Rodney and Monckton when they arrived. There was obviously nothing left but failure or a direct attack.
On January 14, the whole fleet anchored in the mouth of Fort Royal Bay. Rodney and Monckton immediately proceeded to make a fresh reconnaissance, and ugly the project looked. The whole country appeared a kind of natural fortification, and, in spite of the various feints which had been made, it seemed to be swarming with irregular troops exactly adapted to the warfare in hand. The shores bristled with batteries, deep in the bay sat the formidable citadel towering on a rocky height, and above it, a little inshore, rose, like great outworks, three lofty hills the Morne Tortensson, the Morne Grenier, and the Morne des Capucins, all strongly entrenched. A landing within the bay was clearly impossible.
On January 15, a likely place was found, just to the north of it, at Case-Navire (near present-day Schœlcher). Like every other possible point, it was defended by batteries, and the country between it and Fort Royal looked as bad as ever. But it was this or nothing.
On the morning of January 16, the order of the attack having been arranged and the ships sent to their stations, they opened fire upon the batteries. By noon, these batteries were silenced. Soon after which the British troops were landed in three divisions in Case-Navire Bay, a little to the north of Morne aux Nègres (more precisely Pointe des Nègres Libres), under conduct of Captains Molyneux Shuldham, Robert Swanton and Augustus John Hervey. By sunset two-thirds of the army were on shore without loss of a man.
On January 17, shortly after daybreak, the rest of the army with 900 Marines, followed. The distance to Fort Royal was not great, only about 8 or 9 km. Morne aux Nègres forms the northern headland of the harbour, and had at its foot a road leading due east over the mountains to the capital town of Fort Royal (present-day Fort de France), some 5 km away. The country was terribly difficult, the way was blocked by deep gullies and ravines; while the French had erected redoubts at every point of vantage, as well as batteries on a hill beyond, named Morne Tortenson, manned by a company of Canonniers-Bombardiers de la Marine under the command of Captain Chevalier Pelletier de Liancourt and Lieutenant Joseph Gaspard Tascher de La Pagerie. Monckton was thus compelled to erect batteries to silence the French guns before he could advance farther. Immediately after landing, engineers, assisted by 1,000 sailors sent by the admiral, were set to work in raising batteries. The necessary guns were dragged to the front.
By January 24, British batteries against Morne Tortenson were completed, and at daybreak a general attack was made by a body of troops advancing along the coast parallel with a detachment of 1,000 seamen in boats under the fire of the batteries upon the French defences on Morne Tortenson, a party being at the same time detached to turn the French right flank. The turning movement was completely successful and the redoubts by the sea, on the French left, having been carried, the troops stormed post after post, until at 9:00 a.m. they were in possession not only of the detached redoubts but of the entire position of Morne Tortenson, with its guns and entrenchments. The French retired in great confusion, some to Fort Royal and some to Morne Grenier, a still higher hill to the north of Morne Tortenson. Simultaneously two brigades under Brigadiers Haviland and Walsh attacked other French posts to the north of Morne Tortenson and, after great difficulty owing to the steepness of the ground, succeeded in driving them also back to Morne Grenier. The losses of the British in this action amounted to 33 officers and 350 men killed and wounded.
Capture of Fort Royal
On January 25, Monckton, being now within range, began to throw up batteries against the citadel of Fort Royal, but finding himself much annoyed by the French batteries on Morne Grenier to his left, decided that these must first be silenced.
On the afternoon of January 27, before Monckton had time to launch an attack on them, the French entrenched at Morne Grenier suddenly debouched in 3 columns and launched an attack upon Haviland's brigade and the Light Infantry of the army, on Monckton's left. During this attack, one French column exposed its flank to the Highlanders and was almost instantly routed. The two remaining columns thereupon gave way, and the whole fled back to Morne Grenier with the British in chase. The pursuers plunged down into the intervening ravine after the French and swarming up Morne Grenier "by every path, road, and passage where men could run, walk, or creep," hunted the fugitives headlong before them. Night came on, but the British officers would not stop until they had cleared every Frenchman off the hill and captured all the works and guns. Monckton at once sent off more troops to support the pursuers.
By 1:00 AM on January 28, Morne Grenier was securely occupied, at a cost of little more than 100 British killed and wounded. The batteries on Morne Tortenson were then completed, new batteries were constructed within 370 meters of the citadel.
The French Governor, M. Louis le Vassor de La Touche Tréville, after leaving a garrison of about 1,000 men in Fort Royal, had retired with the bulk of his force to Saint-Pierre. A garrison so abandoned has seldom great resisting spirit. So soon as the governor's back was turned the regulars retired into the citadel, and the militia dispersed to their homes.
At the beginning of February, while the citadel was bombarded from Morne Tortenson, the third position, Morne des Capucins, which was the nearest to Fort Royal, was occupied without opposition. It was but 400 m. from the citadel, and Monckton immediately prepared to establish a new and more effective battery upon its summit. But the garrison would stand no more. Further resistance was indeed hopeless.
On February 3, Fort Royal surrendered. Even before the conquest of Martinique had been completed, Rodney had detached Captain Swanton to blockade Grenada.
On February 4, Fort Royal was in Monckton's hands. The garrison that marched out was but 800 men all told, but none the less the extraordinary physical difficulties and the precision and dash with which they had been overcome made the whole exploit a fine feat of arms. The strength of the French preparations, which they had had so long a time to make, may be judged by the fact that over a 170 pieces of artillery fell into Monckton's hands, with a vast quantity of ammunition. Added to this Rodney received the surrender of Pigeon Island on summons, and 14 fine privateers that were lying in the harbour.
Immediately after the surrender of Fort Royal, Hervey was sent round with a small squadron to support the frigates at La Trinité. There he promptly landed 500 seamen and marines to seize the place and the whole district at once made its submission. It was the end of the operations. M. de la Touche Tréville could resist no further the pressure which the inhabitants brought to bear upon him. Rodney was in the act of moving on against Saint-Pierre when a proposal for capitulation arrived.
By February 16, the whole Martinique island was in possession of the British. Captain Darby, of the Devonshire (74), and Major Gates, later a general in the army of the revolting American Colonists, carried home the dispatches announcing the capture of Fort Royal; and each received from the king the usual compliment of 500 Pounds. The British loss during the operations amounted to about 500 killed and wounded.
The regiments employed in Martinique, complete or in detachments, were the 4th King's Own, 15th Amherst, 17th Monckton, 22nd Gage, 27th Inniskilling, 28th Townshend, 35th Otway, 38th Watson, 40th Hopson, 42nd Royal Highland, 43rd Talbot, 48th Dunbar, III./60th Royal American, 65th Armiger, 69th Colville, II./76th Rufane’s Regiment of Foot, 77th Montgomery's Highlanders, Vaughan's, 98th Grey, Stuart's, Campbell's, two companies of American Rangers, ten companies of Barbados Volunteers.
Operations against the French West Indies
On February 24, Captain Augustus John Hervey was detached against Sainte-Lucie with the Dragon (74), the Norwich (50), the Penzance (44), the Dover (44) and the Basilisk bomb (8). But Hervey could not satisfy himself as to the strength of the French and, to discover it, he disguised himself as a midshipman, and, in the capacity of an interpreter, accompanied the officer whom he sent to summon the governor, M. de Longueville. That gentleman refused to surrender, yet Hervey learnt much during his visit. The place was defended by a single fort, and Hervey assured himself it was possible to run right in and lay his ships close enough to knock it to pieces.
On February 25, Hervey made preparations for taking his ships into the harbour of Sainte-Lucie. No sooner were his ships seen standing for the harbour than a capitulation was sent to meet him. It was thus, as it were, single-handed, this intrepid officer had the honour of adding to the British possessions that famous naval base, which in the future was destined to be the key of British positions in the Caribbean Sea.
From February 26 to March 3, Monckton shipped off detachments to Sainte-Lucie and Saint-Vincent. Furthermore, Captain Swanton was reinforced at Grenada by vessels conveying troops.
On February 28, all doubt was removed about the war with Spain by the arrival from Antigua of a frigate from home with the Admiralty orders to begin hostilities. Still Rodney did not think it necessary to interrupt the work of organising his new conquest in which he was engaged off Saint- Pierre, or to call in his scattered squadrons.
On March 3, Swanton's reinforcements reached Grenada.
On March 4, the British summoned the island of Grenada but the governor refused to comply. The inhabitants, however, ignored him and capitulated.
On March 5, the governor himself was obliged to surrender at discretion. With Grenada fell the Grenadines. Swanton, leaving a garrison, returned to Martinique. The same day, 3 more frigates reached Rodney with despatches. One was direct from home, and another from Saunders with copies of the orders already received. The third had a different and less pleasant tale to tell. She was straight from Ushant, sent off in hot haste by Spry to inform him of Courbon-Blénac's escape. Since the first false alarm had reached him Rodney had had a chain of frigates to windward the whole length of the Caribbean Islands, on the look-out for the Brest squadron as well as for Spanish prizes, and he now repeated to them his orders for the utmost vigilance. It was now, too, he despatched his urgent order recalling Hervey, and at the same time sent word to Swanton, who was down at Grenada with 7 ships of the line, positive orders to attack Courbon-Blénac if he appeared on his station. As Fort Royal, however, was Courbon-Blénac's probable destination, Swanton was further directed, if he had already taken Grenada, to join the flag at once with 5 ships of the line, so as to enable Rodney to form two squadrons each strong enough to engage the enemy whether he tried to reach his goal by the north or the south end of Martinique.
Blénac, however, was too clever to do either. Having no mind to thrust his head into the lion's mouth, he warily made the windward side of Martinique near La Trinité.
Hervey was next about to proceed to Saint-Vincent to assure the Caribs that their neutrality would be maintained and that the French would be no longer suffered to interfere with them. No doubt the island would have been added to his score, but he was recalled by Rodney, in consequence of news having been received of the arrival of a French squadron.
On March 8, Courbon-Blénac sent an officer ashore for intelligence.
Early on March 9, Courbon-Blénac was sighted by the very frigate by which Spry had sent the warning. The same afternoon she was seen from Rodney's flagship off Saint-Pierre, flying the signal for an enemy's fleet, and the admiral immediately signalled to weigh. Unhappily it fell calm and he could not stir. The frigate captain came on board and reported that at 8:00 AM the French squadron, 13 sail strong, of which 8 were ships of the line, were off La Trinité standing south. The information indicated that it was Courbon-Blénac's intention to reach Fort Royal round the southern point of the island. There Douglas was cruising with a weak detachment, and his position was critical. Fortunately the wind had now sprung up, and Rodney, who had with him 6 ships of the line, crowded all sail to the rescue. Swanton and Hervey had been given the same point for rendezvous, and he made no doubt Courbon-Blénac was delivered into his hands. But he was doomed to disappointment. After joining Douglas he sailed round the island on the windward side, but without finding a trace of his opponent. When Courbon-Blénac had been seen by the British frigate he had already ascertained that the island was in British hands, and was now on his way northward, heading for Cap François. His board to the south which the frigate had seen had probably been only a ruse.
On March 10, after lying-to till midday, Courbon-Blénac put before the wind, warned perhaps from the shore of Rodney's movement, and after running so close to La Trinité that the officer in command made ready for an attack, he held away northward towards Dominica. Rodney summoned his detached division to a rendezvous off the Salines, and, with Sir James Douglas, vainly went in search of the French squadron.
A day or two after came news from Guadeloupe that Courbon-Blénac had been seen from there steering to the westward. There could no longer be room for doubt that he was making either for Jamaica or Cap François, with the probable intention of effecting a preconcerted junction with the Spaniards. Rodney thus found himself confronted with a strategical situation which called for all his sagacity and readiness to take responsibility. In Havana, Rodney knew that a formidable naval concentration had been going on for some time. It was said that 14 ships of the line were already there, and others were on the station. He felt, like Saunders at the other side of the ocean, that at all hazards the allied squadrons must be prevented from getting together. To stop Courbon-Blénac reaching Cap François was now impossible, and Swanton and Hervey having by this time joined Rodney resolved to return to Saint-Pierre for victuals and water with all speed, and then to proceed to the succour of Jamaica. His orders under the circumstances that had arisen, it will be remembered, did no more than authorise his detaching Douglas to Jamaica. But they had been issued before the Spanish declaration of war, and like the fine officer he was in his prime, Rodney determined to take the responsibility of leaving his station for the point of danger.
As in hot haste Rodney was watering at Saint-Pierre, the crisis was intensified and the course on which he had determined made clearer. An urgent express came in from the governor and council of Jamaica, to say they had learned from intercepted letters that the island was to be attacked by the combined forces of Spain and France, and the French officers who were to command were on board Courbon-Blénac's fleet.
On March 15, Courbon-Blénac reached Cap François, that is about the same time that Rodney had returned to water at Saint-Pierre. Captain Carteret of the Merlin sloop had been watching the port as usual, when that night he suddenly found himself close to the French fleet. Some of them gave chase, and seeing no escape Carteret, as a last hope, began signalling with lights and guns, as though the British battle-fleet were within call. Trite as was the device, it succeeded. It was no part of Courbon-Blénac's game to fight single-handed. He was fortunate enough not to find the Jamaica squadron barring his entrance to Cap François. The chasing ships were recalled and the squadron went crowding into port in such a hurry that a 64 took the ground and was lost.
On March 17, Courbon-Blénac disembarked 4,000 men at Dominica.
When Rodney had collected his whole force and had been assured that the French had gone to Cap François, he returned to Martinique to water. He there found the Aquilon (28), from which he learnt trustworthy details of M. de Courbon-Blénac's strength. He already knew, thanks to early information sent him by Commander George Johnstone, commanding the Hornet (14) on the Lisbon station, of the rupture with Spain and he was thus enabled to attack the Spanish trade in the West Indies before the Spaniards themselves knew that war had broken out. This important intelligence had been brought to Rodney by a small French privateer prize, which Johnstone had entrusted to the Hornet's master, Mr. John M'Laurin. At Martinique, Rodney also heard that a strong Spanish squadron had arrived at Havana and that Jamaica was believed to be threatened. He resolved to move at once to the Jamaica station with every ship that could be spared from the Caribbean Islands. Rodney also pressed Monckton to let him take a body of troops as well. Monckton in great distress refused because he did not consider himself authorised to detach troops from his command without orders from Great Britain. Rodney went off with practically his whole fleet (10 ships of the line, 3 frigates, and 3 bombs). Rodney also sent a frigate to warn Captain Arthur Forrest who, as senior officer, had succeeded Rear-admiral Holmes on the Jamaica station. Rodney instructed Forrest to join him with his whole squadron off Cape St. Nicolas in the Windward Passage where he intended to proceed with the main fleet.
Change of plan
On March 26, Rodney reached St. Christopher's. He was still preparing to sail for Cape St. Nicolas, the Richmond (32), Captain John Elphinstone, arrived from England with orders for him and General Monckton (who had already made his arrangements for the capture of Tobago) to postpone further operations pending the appearance of Admiral Sir George Pocock, who had been commissioned to conduct a secret expedition on an important scale. This did not prevent Rodney from sending Sir James Douglas, with 10 ships of the line, to the Jamaica station with directions to bring Forrest's squadron thence as soon as possible, and to join Pocock. Douglas' squadron consisted of:
- Dublin (74), Commodore Sir James Douglas, Captain Edward Gascoigne
- Culloden (74), Captain John Barker
- Dragon (74), Captain Aug. John Hervey
- Téméraire (74), Captain Matthew Barton
- Temple (70), Captain Julian Legge
- Devonshire (74), Captain Samuel Marshall
- Alcide (64), Captain Thomas Hankerson
- Stirling Castle (70), Captain James Campbell
- Nottingham (60), Captain Thomas Collingwood
- Sutherland (50), Captain Michael Everitt
- Dover (44), Captain Chaloner Ogle
- Thunder bomb (8), Commander Robert Haswell
- Grenado bomb (8)
On April 12, Douglas reached Port Royal where he found 9 sail. Here, he heard that the Brest squadron, now reduced to 6 ships of the line and 3 frigates, was in Cap François, and that any intention there may have been of an attack on Jamaica from Havana had been abandoned. He also heard that more troops were expected down from North America to join the "grand expedition." Disobeying orders sent from Great Britain to the squadron stationed at Jamaica, Douglas immediately sent Hervey away with 7 ships of the line and 2 frigates to take station at Tortuga, an island which lies just to leeward of Cap François, so as to cover the passage of the North American transports, and deal with Blénac if he attempted to come out.
Rodney also sent Captain Swanton, with a division, to cruise off the Spanish Main, and himself went to Saint-Pierre, Martinique, sending a frigate to meet Pocock at Barbados.
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, p. 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. 242-245, 252
- Corbett, Julian S.; England in the Seven Years' War – A Study in Combined Strategy, Vol II; New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907; pp. 209-210, 218-226, 235-239
- Fortescue J. W.: A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 538-541
- Hennet, Léon Clément: Les milices et les troupes provinciales, 1834
Daney, Sydney: Histoire de la Martinique depuis la colonisation jusqu'en 1815, Tome I, Fort Royal, 1846
Jean-Pierre Loriot for the precise composition of the French regular forces and of the relief forces transported by Courbon-Blénac's squadron
Jean Charles Soulié for additional information on the campaign