Thursday, October 4, 2007

French Fleet Defeated by Admiral Nelson

From: Copies of original letters from the army of General Bonaparte in Egypt, intercepted by the fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson. With an English translation (London, J. Wright, 1798-1800, 3 vols.), vol. 2,

TRANSLATION. pp.189-191.

Alexandria, September 2d.

Rear Admiral GANTEAUME, to the Generals commanding the Land and Sea Forces, at Malta.


TIS with anguish of soul I inform you, that on the first of last month, the fleet of the Republic was attacked and defeated by that of Great Britain, under the command of Admiral Nelson. The action began at six in the evening, and did not finish till the forenoon on the next day. After a most vigorous struggle, force prevailed, and our fleet, inferior(1) both in number of vessels, and in the composition of their crews, yielded the day.

We had the misfortune, in this fatal contest, to lose eleven sail of the line. Almost all the superior officers were killed or wounded. Since this calamitous event, the enemy is the master of the coast, and intercepts all our communications, with a small division of four sail of the line, and a few frigates. The rest of their fleet has sailed, with the prizes, for Sicily.

Our position in the interior is, however, satisfactory. We are in possession of all Lower Egypt. The Commander in Chief is at Cairo. The Mameloucs have been defeated, destroyed in part, and dispersed. A body of them, under the command of Ibrahim Bey, has taken shelter in Syria, and Murad Bey has passed into Said. General Desaix is in pursuit of him, and no one here entertains a doubt but that we shall speedily hear of his defeat. In that case, masters of the whole of Egypt, we shall be able to maintain ourselves in the country, PROVIDED that we receive a little assistance from France during the winter.

I send you, with this letter, my dispatches for Government. Have the goodness to forward them without delay.

Health and fraternity.


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)How could Ganteaume (evidently a man of sense) set down this absurd and contemptible falsehood! He states the English force correctly enough in the First Part (p.130), and he must have known, while he was writing, that the “superiority,” in every thing (courage and capacity excepted) was on the side of the French.

The number of vessels, it is true, was equal: yet if we consider that the largest line of battle ship in the English squadron was probably inferior in size to the smallest in that of the French; that the latter had one ship of 120 guns, three of 80, four frigates, several gun-boats, and a “battery of guns and mortars on an island in their van,” to which we had nothing to oppose; we can have little hesitation in deciding the question of superiority.

In stating the number of vessels to be equal, it should be observed, that we count the Leander in the line. How fit she was for this, may be seen my comparing her size and force to any one of the French seventy-fours opposed to her; to the Genereux, for example, by whom she was afterwards captured.

We have now before us a letter written by Sir Edward Berry; from this we shall take the liberty of extracting the relative statement of the force, &c. of the two ships.

“The Genereux, of 74 guns, is 193 feet 7 inches in length, and 23 feet in depth; burden 2144 tons; carries thirty 36 pounders; thirty 18 ditto; and four 42-pound carronades; complement 700 men (when she fell in with the Leander she had 900).

“The Leander, of 50 guns, is 146 feet 6 inches in length; and 17 feet, 5 inches in depth; burden 1052 tons: carries twenty two 24-pounders, twenty-two 12 ditto, and six 6 ditto; complement 343 men (when captured, she had only 282, boys included) her mast, yards, and sails, those of a thirty-two gun frigate.”

Thus far Captain Berry. Whether the Morning Chronicle, which denies this brace man courage in common with the rest of his countrymen, will have the temerity to question his veracity, we know not,--should that paper, however, feel inclined to do so, we think it lies in our power to assist it; we can furnish it with a counter-testimony from a quarter which it has never yet had the uncandidness to doubt; we mean from the French themselves.

Extract of an official letter from the Captain of the Genereux.

Corfou, Sept. 1st.

“I have the pleasure of informing you that I am arrived at this place with the English ship, the Leander, of SEVENTY-FOUR funs, which I fell in with near Candria.”—Here follow some absurd lies concerning the action of the 1st of August, which we omit.

“With respect to the Leander, I was obliged to engage her for near five hours. She mounts SEVENTY-FOUR GUNS; 30, 24, and 12 pounders! I ought to have carried here in less than an hour,” (this is true enough)”for we fought broadside and broadside: during the action we fell aboard each other, and if my crew had been a little more alert I should then have taken her!!!”


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