Admiral Jervis’ Leeward Islands Campaign – January – December 1794
Amongst the many disappointing campaigns undertaken by British arms in 1793, that in the Leeward Islands had been conspicuous for its failure to achieve anything of note against the French islands, not least because of an insufficient number of troops, but also as a result of a surprisingly diffident approach by the normally pugnacious Rear-Admiral Alan Gardner. As the control of the lucrative Caribbean was far too important to remain in question, the government did not waste any time in forming another, larger expedition, to protect our islands and to reduce those of significance belonging to the French, namely Martinique, St. Lucia and Guadeloupe.
As early as 25 September, a week before Gardner arrived back at Spithead, Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis and Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Grey had kissed the King’s hand on their respective appointments to lead the campaign, it being intended that they would command a force of eight to ten sail of the line and sixteen thousand troops respectively. An early departure for the Caribbean was deemed to be advisable, for it was understood that the most favourable campaigning months in the region were from November to April in order to avoid the heat of the summer, the rainy season, and the hurricane season. Accordingly, by the beginning of October the victuallers with the provisions for the expedition were lying off Deptford, and on 2 October Jervis hoisted his flag at Spithead aboard the Boyne 98, Captain William Albany Otway, with the expectation of being at sea within two weeks.
The days went by and it was then announced that the date of departure had been pushed back to early November. On 27 October Jervis and Grey were suddenly recalled to London from where the general left town for Ostend to establish the situation with those elements of his intended army who had been delayed on the continent fighting the French. On 8 November, two days after his return to Dover from Ostend, came the news that the expedition would sail without further delay, and on the same day the frigates Quebec 32, Captain Josias Rogers, and Pomona 28, Captain Henry d’Esterre Darby, in company with the sloop Hawke 16, Commander Robert Barton, arrived at Portsmouth with Grey’s troops from Ostend.
But just when the fleet was finally ready to depart almost half of Grey’s troops were unexpectedly sequestered at short notice by the Major-General the Earl of Moira to serve under him in an expedition to the continent. Needless to say this plundering of their manpower was of great dismay to Jervis and Grey, but aware that the time available for campaigning was ebbing away they nevertheless determined to leave England as soon as possible. On a personal level the delays at least allowed them to organise the nepotistic posting to captain of George Grey, the son of the General, who replaced Otway as Jervis’ flag captain aboard the Boyne. More importantly the hold ups also avoided the possibility of their meeting with a French squadron of six 74-gun ships and two frigates which had put out from Brest on 13 November with the apparent aim of intercepting the expedition, but had instead had to flee back to port to avoid the Channel Fleet.
Finally on 26 November the expeditionary force got under way from St. Helens, although even then they had scarcely been at sea a day before they brought to off Portland in order to re-attach a number of transports that had to be chivvied along by the Quebec. Once out into the Atlantic a division of the convoy under the escort of Commodore Charles Thompson in the Vengeance 74 parted company on 3 December, and by the 17th Jervis was at Madeira where wine was taken on board for the officers. Putting to sea again that night, Jervis arrived at Barbados to anchor in Carlisle Bay on the morning of 6 January 1794, and shortly afterwards Thompson’s convoy, together with troop transports from Ireland escorted by the Irresistible 74, Captain John Henry, arrived to bring the fleet up to a strength of four sail of the line, seven frigates, and about a dozen other men-of-war.
Once on station the two commanders began formulating their plans for the capture of the jewel and administrative centre of the French West Indian islands, Martinique, and in this enterprise they were bolstered by the news that there was a discord between the French commander-in-chief, General Donatien Marie Joseph de Vimeur Rochambeau, and the Mulatto General Bellegarde, described as the ‘popular leader of the people of colour’. Within days of their arrival a number of the frigates were sent out to collect whatever troops could be spared from Grenada, St. Kitts’s, Tobago and other islands, and soon all was ready to commence the campaign.
On 3 February the fleet, escorting a land force of five thousand three hundred men, departed Carlisle Bay, leaving almost another thousand men behind in sick quarters at Barbados. The force was off Martinique two days later where Thompson was despatched with the Army second-in-command, Major-General Thomas Dundas, to land at Trinité on the upper side of the east coast, and Captain Rogers of the Quebec with a commodore’s broad pennant led a small squadron that was sent with Colonel Sir Charles Gordon to land at Case de Navire, about half-way up the west coast above the principal town of Fort Royal. Meanwhile the main division under Jervis and Grey entered the Bay of Maran on the south-west coast of the island where on moving inshore they were fired at by two forts, the Pointe de Jardin and the Pointe de la Borgnesse. Nothing daunted, a brilliant young officer, Lieutenant Richard Bowen of the flagship Boyne, took a small schooner in to sound the waters and by 4 pm the fleet was able to come to anchor. As soon as the troops began to disembark into their flat-boats the French battery in the Pointe de la Borgnesse opened up a withering fire, but these being answered by the men-of-war and a number of pre-fabricated gun-boats the troops were able to land and put the enemy to flight, whereupon the guns were spiked and the troops re-embarked.
On 6 February Grey’s two thousand five hundred men were landed unopposed further up the west coast at Trois Rivieres in the Bay of St. Luce, and they set off in two divisions to march inland over the mountains to reach La Rivierre Sallée, about a third of the way north to Fort Royal. Back in the Bay of Maran on 7 February Jervis sent Lieutenant James Miln of the Boyne to deliver a summons to the governor of the Maran province under a flag of truce, but this officer was somewhat disgracefully fired upon; however when he was sent to the town of St. Anne with a gunboat under another flag of truce the next day he found the place entirely deserted. The French had retreated north towards Fort Royal, in the process of which march they burned several plantations and put to death slaves belonging to any Royalist sympathisers.
Meanwhile on 5 February Thompson and Dundas with the second division had entered the Bay of Gallion on the north-east coast of the island, and led by the enterprising Captain Robert Faulknor of the Zebra had driven the enemy from a defensive battery, allowing the troops to land some three miles from the town of Trinité. Commencing his march the next morning, Dundas’ force, assisted by a brigade of seamen under Captain John Salisbury of the Beaulieu, was able to capture two forts overlooking Trinité, whereupon Bellegarde set fire to the town and fled into the mountains with his slave army. Assuming that the general would seek to defend the strategic fortress of Gros Morne which covered the main pass between the northern and southern parts of the island, Dundas marched there only to find the place deserted. The way was now open to Fort Royal, and the only inconvenience he had to face was a fruitless night attack by Bellegarde with eight hundred men on the night of the 10th.
Overcoming a pilot’s misjudgement that had initially led Captain Rogers’ squadron to anchor off St. Lucia rather than Martinique, the third landing force under Colonel Gordon eventually landed on 8 February at Case de Navire and managed to out-flank the enemy. Despite encountering some resistance over the next few days Gordon was able to sweep up French outposts and batteries as he marched in a south-easterly direction towards within three miles of Fort Bourbon, the principal bastion on the island which lay above the town of Fort Royal, and was reputedly the strongest fortress in the West Indies.
On 11 February the strategic Pigeon Island, which covered the entrance to Fort Royal Bay from the south, was stormed by Rogers’ men after the heights above had been captured and batteries erected, and this allowed Jervis to bring his fleet into the harbour known as the Careenage a day later under an ineffective fire from Fort Louis on a spit of land on the north side of the bay. Concurrently Generals Grey and Dundas formed a rendezvous at Bruno, about six miles north-east of Fort Royal, and the decision was taken to march on the town of St. Pierre, the capital of the island, which lay on the upper north-west coast. Jervis detached the Veteran 64, Asia 64, Santa Margarita 36, Blonde 32, Rattlesnake 16, Zebra 16, Nautilus 16 and Vesuvius bomb in support, and the town was captured on the 17th after the ships had engaged the batteries throughout the preceding night, the bomb in particular doing much damage to the town. On this occasion Captain Eliab Harvey of the Santa Margarita distinguished himself by placing his frigate alongside the larger of the batteries when it threatened to prevent the landing of the troops and the naval brigade.
The only remaining strongholds in French possession now were the low lying town of Fort Royal with its supporting Forts Bourbon and Louis. On 15 February Captain Rogers with some seven hundred seamen, set up camp near Point Negro north of Fort Royal, from where they could assist in the erection of the batteries leading up to Fort Bourbon. A wharf was constructed on the north-eastern side of the bay to allow the landing of stores, ordnance and provisions for the Army, and in this task the engineers and artificers were joined by a force of over three hundred seamen and marines commanded by Captains William Hancock Kelly and Eliab Harvey, and Commander James Carpenter. Then with a skill far beyond even the imagination of their fellow service, or indeed the French, and despite struggling on hard ground made slippery by the heavy rains, the seamen dextrously hauled heavy artillery some five miles into a position on the rocky heights of Sourier, cutting a mile-long road through a dense wood and fording a river in the process. Meanwhile from the bay the Navy continued to annoy Fort Louis, with the Vesuvius throwing in shells by day and the fleet’s gun-boats and row-boats moving up to attack at night.
Realising the hopelessness of his position, General Rochambeau despatched an emissary from Fort Bourbon to the Boyne seeking terms on the basis that should the French monarchy be restored then the island would revert to their control, and that if a Republican government were established it should be given up to them. Lieutenant-General Grey, to whom the emissary was escorted by his son, Captain Grey, made it clear beyond doubt that his sole intention was to take all the French islands for Britain, and hence Rochambeau was left with no choice but to fight on. By 20 February the twelve hundred French were totally surrounded and their position became ever more desperate five days later when General Bellegarde, who had been excluded by Rochambeau, surrendered his army and was despatched in exile to America. On 6 March a flag of truce was sent in by the British but the terms were again rejected by Rochambeau, and so at dawn on the 7th the bombardment of Fort Bourbon opened.
During the two-week siege that followed a most singular misfortune occurred in the batteries manned by the seaman under Captain Rogers. It came about on 13 March when the passionate Captain Faulknor, whilst engaged in a furious argument with an army engineer, impulsively jabbed at a seaman with his sword after the man had failed to instantly obey his orders, and not realising the strength of his thrust, nor the fact that the armourer had sharpened his sword that very morning, killed the man on the spot. The deceased’s outraged shipmates despatched his bloodied jacket to Jervis on the Boyne and refused to go to their posts at the battery when the drum beat to quarters, and it was only through Rogers’ encouragement and his insistence that Faulkner would be brought to a court-martial that they finally returned to their stations. The crew of the Zebra knew full well that their captain was not a cruel or vicious man and with the help of their testimonies Faulknor was acquitted, but he did not resume his position on shore and by all accounts he became a changed man on account of the sad affair. Another unhappy occurrence for the naval forces was the loss of Lieutenant Miln of the Boyne, who was mortally wounded in losing both legs to a shell, and who lingered on only long enough to learn that a grateful Jervis had promoted him commander of recently captured French privateer that was commissioned as the sloop Avenger 16.
As the siege progressed, concern grew for a number of British prisoners who were suspected to be aboard a French frigate, the Bienvenue 32, which was moored in the middle of the Careenage, and which was in the line of fire from the British batteries. On 17 March Lieutenant Bowen, who had been seconded to the command of the night-guard and gunboats, received permission to launch a noon assault on this vessel. Subject as it would be to musketry and grape shot from Fort Louis and the frigate itself this was undoubtedly a risky attack, but despite their ferocious fire he managed to get aboard her, and with most of the French crew fleeing their guns he quickly made her his prize with the loss of just three men killed and five wounded. Any hope of bringing her out at this stage was negated by the risk of sending his men aloft to set sail under the continued fire of the fort, and having ascertained that the British prisoners were in fact aboard another vessel, one that was well defended by the French, he abandoned the Bienvenue whilst carrying off her captain, a lieutenant and twenty men. To his great honour the lieutenant made these prisoners lie down in the boats that brought them off lest they be hit by the shot of their own countrymen.
Bowen’s success prompted Jervis and Grey to consider a similarly bold move in order to break the French resolve. On 20 March the ship of the line Asia 64, Captain John Brown, assisted by Captain Faulknor in his tiny sloop Zebra, were instructed to move up and bombard Fort Louis and at the same time provide covering fire for an attack on the fort by troops in the boats of the fleet under the overall command of Commodore Charles Thompson, who would be assisted by Captains Charles Edmund Nugent of the Veteran and Edward Riou of the frigate Rose 28. To complete the attack a detachment of the army would descend on the town of Fort Royal from the rear.
The orders were clear and simple, and Faulknor’s part in the overall operation was expected to be negligible, but from the outset destiny smiled upon the young commander, who was undoubtedly still riven with guilt following his unfortunate manslaughter of the seaman a week earlier. Somehow Lieutenant de Tourelles, an elderly French royalist who was piloting the Asia, contrived to miss the entrance to the harbour as the ships came under fire and sailed straight passed it. Jervis, who was holding the rest of the fleet at single anchor in readiness to support the attack, assumed that either Captain Brown had been killed, or that some accident had befallen the Asia, and he despatched Captain Grey in a boat to ascertain the reason for her failure to enter the Careenage, and if necessary to take command and run her aground under the fort. Grey soon returned to report that the Asia was undamaged and would try again, but then the sail of the line failed to enter the harbour mouth on her second attempt, either by missing her stays, having vital rigging shot away, or through the timidity or treachery of M. Tourelles.
The Zebra encountered no such difficulty in entering the Careenage, even though her pilot, a hitherto courageous man, suddenly displayed a disinclination for battle. Released from his duty, he sat down shamefacedly on an arms chest and apparently contemplated upon a dream in which he had envisaged his own death. Surmising that the Zebra could not possibly survive the furious grape and round shot from the fort on her own, Faulknor assumed the duties of pilot himself, and in ignoring his pre-determined anchorage headed straight for the walls of Fort Louis whilst providing covering fire for the boats of the fleet, as originally ordered. As soon as the sloop grounded he led his crew over the bows to assail the fort, and he was the first man on the ramparts, to be closely followed by Captain Nugent as the boats arrived. In no time the French were driven from the fort and the British flag was raised. Amazingly the Zebra only suffered one fatality in her glorious attack, this being the unfortunate pilot who was blown to smithereens when a ball struck the arms-chest on which he had been sitting. Equally amazingly, Faulknor himself escaped largely unhurt when a cartouch-box he was carrying was struck full on and destroyed by a grapeshot. Luck was with him that day, and upon reporting to the commander-in-chief aboard the Boyne he was loudly cheered by every ship in the fleet, greeted by the flagship’s band playing ‘See the Conquering Hero comes’, and even embraced by the un-forbidding Admiral Jervis upon his quarter-deck.
With the threat of Fort Louis nullified, the Army and Captain Rogers’ seven hundred seamen were easily able to take possession of the town of Fort Royal where Captain Nugent was placed in command. Now it was only a matter of time before General Rochambeau capitulated in Fort Bourbon, and on 22 March he surrendered the entire island to British arms. The French commander-in-chief was taken away to Rhode Island aboard the bomb-vessel Vesuvius, and he would later be exchanged in August 1795 with Lieutenant-General Charles O’Hara, who had been captured at the Occupation of Toulon in November 1793. The remaining French garrison of nine hundred men was given passage to Europe in a cartel as part of the terms of capitulation, although disgracefully Lieutenant James Athol Wood of the Boyne would be imprisoned in the most frugal conditions by Robespierre’s government when the nine cartels delivered the French prisoners to St. Malo in May. Upon being taken to Paris, Wood at least had the satisfaction of seeing that infamous revolutionary hauled to the guillotine, and in February 1795 he was released on parole to arrive at Cowes from Le Havre aboard an American vessel.
In capturing Martinique, the jewel of the French West Indian islands, the Navy had lost just fifteen men killed and thirty-two wounded. Both Faulknor and Bowen were deservedly rewarded for their exploits in the campaign, the former being posted captain of the Bienvenue, which was taken into the navy as the Undaunted 28, and the latter replacing Faulknor with his promotion to commander of the Zebra. Captain Lord Henry Paulet of the Vengeance was sent home aboard the Blonde 32, Captain John Markham, with Jervis’ dispatches and on 21 April he arrived at the Admiralty.
Following Martinique’s capture St. Lucia became the next target, and the allocated force set sail on the morning of 31 March to arrive off the island the next morning. The first division of the troops under Major-General Dundas were landed some one and a half miles from Gros Islet Bay on the north-western tip of the island at about 3 o’clock the next day from the Solebay 32, the Winchelsea 32, and the transport London, the operation being conducted under the superintendence of Captain Lord Garlies of the Winchelsea as Captain Kelly of the Solebay was ill with a fever. A second division was landed under the superintendence of Commodore Thompson from the Vengeance 74, Irresistible 74 and Rattlesnake 16 in Ance-du-Chocque, some five miles further down the coast at about 5 o’clock, and just prior to the sun going down a corps of Grenadiers under the command of Major-General HRH Prince Edward, who had superseded Colonel Sir Charles Gordon after arriving from Canada on 4 March, were landed from the Santa Margarita 36, Rose 28 and Woolwich 44 en-flute under the superintendence of Captain Eliab Harvey of the first-mentioned vessel at Marigot des Roseaux to the south. Finally a corps of light infantry was landed from the Boyne and Veteran near the Cul de Sac as the day came to a close. During their passage along the coast the ships had received a great deal of fire from the onshore batteries but had not incurred any casualties, nor felt it necessary to respond. When Captain Rogers of the Quebec did finally decide that his berth before one redoubt was no longer tenable he was on the point of withdrawing when he beheld the gratifying sight of General Grey’s grenadiers and light infantry rushing forward to storm the position, whereupon they put the garrison of thirty men to the sword.
After the troops had succeeded in capturing their first objectives the French garrison in the principle works at Morne Fortuné was summoned, but on their refusal to capitulate Jervis ordered the naval brigade under Captain Charles Nugent to land in support of the Army. Noting this reinforcement and the unremitting encroachment of the forces ranged against him, the French commander-in-chief now surrendered, and at 9 a.m. on 4 April the garrison marched out to lay down their arms. Thus the island had been carried without a single British casualty, and Captain Christopher Parker, late of the Blanche 32, took passage home aboard the Rattlesnake, commanded by the promoted d’Arcy Preston, to arrive at the Admiralty on 16 May with the dispatches announcing the capture.
After sailing back to Martinique on 5 April Jervis and Grey began planning the capture of the beautiful island of Guadeloupe, and conscious that the time for campaigning was ebbing away they wasted little of it. In the early hours of 8 April the invasion fleet departed Fort Royal, and whilst on passage a squadron led by Captain Rogers consisting of the frigates, Quebec 32, Blanche 32, Captain Faulknor, Ceres 32, Captain Richard Incledon, and Rose 28, Captain Matthew Henry Scott, was sent to take the four islands of The Saintes, which lay about six miles off Guadeloupe, and which boasted two anchorages that were a haven for enemy privateers. Two of the islands had forts on their heights, but nothing daunted Rogers, although in poor health, led two hundred men in one party that landed at midnight on 10 April to climb the steep path with such stealth that the surprised garrison fled down the opposite hill without offering any resistance. Captain Faulknor was equally successful in capturing the fort on the other island, even though it was evident that the French had been expecting his attack, and the islands and their welcome anchorage passed into British hands without the loss of a single man.
Upon reaching Guadeloupe on the afternoon of 10 April the Boyne and Veteran anchored in the Bay of Pointe à Pitre off the main port of St. Pierre at the south end of the straight that separated the two islands comprising the territory, these being Grand Terre to the east and Basse Terre to the west. Initially the plan was to await the arrival of the rest of the fleet and the transports, but as these were not yet in sight it was decided to land those troops that were readily available, together with a naval brigade of four hundred seamen. The initial disembarkation supported by the covering fire of the Winchelsea took place at Grosier Bay on Grand Terre at 1 a.m. on the 11th under French bombardment from Forts Grosier and Fleur d’Epée. During this engagement the Winchelsea’s captain, Lord Garlies, was wounded in the face but his crew otherwise escaped harm. Once the British had established themselves ashore Captain Faulknor again distinguished himself in the uphill storming of the well defended Fleur d’Epée fortification at 5 a.m. on the 12th, having been joined at the head of the seamen and marines in support of the troops by Captains Grey of the Boyne and Nugent of the Veteran. The battle for the fort was a particularly bloody and bitterly fought one with a hundred and fifty of the French defenders reputedly being put to the sword, and the British, who fought with the blade or pike only, suffering over fifty casualties. Faulknor himself was only saved from certain death when a seaman ran his pike through a French officer as he was in the act of thrusting his sword into the naval captain after throwing him to the ground. The conquest of the fort was nevertheless a most significant one, and Jervis despatched the cutter Seaflower 14, Commander William Pierrepont, to England with dispatches reporting the success.
A garrison being left on Grand Terre, the bulk of the army under Grey were re-embarked and on 14 April the frigates of the fleet led by the Quebec escorted the transports across the bay to Basse Terre where the troops and Captain Rogers’ naval brigade were landed about halfway down the east coast of the island at a village called Petit Bourg. Their arrival was greeted with much delight by the French royalists, and over the next few days the principle officers were dined on their fabulous estates. The invading force then proceeded to march southwards around the coast whilst Jervis and his fleet followed them out to sea, being on hand to provide any assistance as necessary. Having reached the heights above Trois Rivieres on the south-eastern tip off the island on the night of the 16th, the land force turned inland for the principle defensive works at Palmiste, whereupon Jervis took his fleet to parade off the town of Basse Terre on the western coast of that island, receiving only a desultory fire from Fort Charles which stood over the town. On the 17th Major-General Dundas was landed at Vieux Habitant, several miles north of the town of Basse Terre, and that night those of the French who did not welcome the British arrival set fire to the town, the west end of which suffered much damage as a consequence. In the early hours of the 20th Grey attacked the French defences at Palmiste, and having carried the highest battery and put the thirty defenders to the sword his men were able to work their way down from the heights and capture every other battery in turn. A juncture was then made with Dundas’ force, whereupon the French succumbed to the inevitable and surrendered the island to British arms on 21 April.
The capture of Guadeloupe had been made at little cost, with the Navy suffering just thirteen men wounded during the campaign. Captain Nugent was sent home with the dispatches announcing the annexation of the island, and he arrived at the Admiralty on 20 May to great jubilation and a satisfaction that the expedition’s objectives had been so rapidly achieved. In Parliament and across the land thanks were offered to the two commanders and their men, and it was taken as read that Jervis and Grey would be ennobled on their return home, which was expected to be in a few months. The only concern for the two commanders at this time was that the dreaded yellow fever had began to make its appearance, and a planned assault on the Dutch settlement of Cayenne on South America by a squadron of frigates, storeships and sloops under Captain Rogers, together with a thousand troops, had to be abandoned. As the weeks went by however, the fever would begin to take a greater toll, most particularly amongst Army.
In July further dispatches arrived in England describing how all was tranquil in the islands and that the French inhabitants were happy with the munificence of their new overlords. In fact this was far from the case, for back on Martinique fraudulent practices had soured the brilliant conquest. The French found their goods impounded by the British forces, and the commanders ordered that it and future produce be sold for the benefit of the conquerors. Profiting by the sale of captured goods was the rule of war, profiting by the labours thereafter of peoples who had become subjects of the new regime was outrageous and against the rules of war. Jervis and Grey made some reconsideration of their conduct, but their subsequent decision to replace their earlier instruction with one which stipulated that a fixed levy of £250,000 should be paid by the inhabitants of Martinique was scarcely more honourable. At Guadeloupe the same instruction was given, and when the money did not appear the two commanders proclaimed that unless it was speedily paid, goods and property would be seized to that value to compensate the British force for liberating the inhabitants from French rule. St. Lucia in turn handed over £150,000. Not surprisingly when the government in London got to hear of these antics they put an immediate stop to them, but the practice had done much to turn the islanders against the British and would make the task of the Republicans far easier when they attempted the recapture of the islands.
Meanwhile the French government had not been idle. A force of two frigates, a corvette, two 44-gun vessels armed en-flute, together with two other vessels and fifteen hundred troops under the command of a zealous commissioner from the National Assembly in Paris, Victor Hugues, arrived off Pointe à Pitre, Guadeloupe on 3 June. The fever was rife amongst the British garrison, and as well as negating the strength of their resistance it took the life that very day of the governor, Major-General Dundas, and his second-in-command. After two failed attempts Hugues stormed Fort Fleur d’Epée, putting the defenders to the sword and allegedly failing to spare their wives and children. The inhabitants of Grand Terre welcomed the French republicans as a better proposition than the British profiteers under Jervis and Grey, and once the slaves rose in favour of Hugues he was carried on a wave of fervour into Pointe à Petre.
At the time of Hugues’ arrival Jervis was at St. Kitts where the Boyne was watering preparatory to his return to England. Upon receiving intelligence of the French landing on Grand Terre from Captain James Ross of the Resource 28 via a schooner, he dashed off for the British-held Basse-Terre to arrive on the early afternoon of the 7th, being joined there by the Resource, the Nautilus, and the Winchelsea which had General Grey aboard. Shortly afterwards he was able to re-unite with the promoted Rear-Admiral Thompson who had been summoned from Martinique aboard his new flagship, the Vanguard 74, Captain Charles Sawyer, and the next day at noon the fleet anchored off Grosier from where the French ships could be seen in Pointe à Pitre. On the 9th the British ships came under fire from Fort Fleur d’Epée, and it was only with difficulty that seamen from the Boyne were able to bring off men from the transport London after she had gone aground. The cannon of Winchelsea then put the enemy manning a two gun battery at Grosier to flight, but with too few troops at hand it was not possible to follow this success up with a landing on Grand Terre.
In the meantime a call had gone out to the various islands for reinforcements, and on the 14th the Roebuck 44, Commander Andrew Christie, came in with an assortment of troops, allowing Grey to finally land on Grand Terre under the cover of the guns of the fleet. By 17 June the Veteran had arrived with more reinforcements from St. Lucia and St. Vincent, and her new commander, Captain Lewis Robertson, together with Captain Sawyer, led two battalions of seamen which joined the army. Advancing on Grosier, the British were able to drive the French back towards Fort Fleur d’Epée and were soon in a position to erect batteries before the French stronghold. Next day a party of seamen under Lieutenant Isaac Wolley joined the grenadiers in a sally against St. Anne’s Fort, some fourteen miles to the east of Grosier, and in heavy rain they were able to surprise the works. In so doing they inflicted many casualties but had to curb the excesses of their French Royalist allies when they began enacting reprisals in the town, and upon learning that a superior French force was on the march they soon had to withdraw.
On 24 June the batteries were opened against Fort Fleur d’Epée and Pointe à Pitre where the French vessels had began preparing for the hurricane season by hauling down their sails and rigging, and for the next week the artillery and the naval gun-boats maintained a heavy bombardment. Yet although there were regular skirmishes with the French there was no sign of any breakthrough, and so being conscious that the rainy season had set in and that the hurricane season was looming, Jervis and Grey determined on a bold move.
The plan was for a body of troops under Brigadier-General Richard Symes, assisted by seamen from the Boyne and Veteran under the command of Captain Robertson, to take control of the heights overlooking Pointe à Pitre in a night attack, and once that objective had been achieved for Grey with the bulk of the army to then launch a full-scale assault on Fort Fleur d’Epée. Setting off at 9 p.m. on 1 July, Symes’ force with the seamen in the rear had to endure a fatiguing march before they could even commence their attack, and when they did advance on the enemy they were met with a furious barrage of round and grape shot from the heights, and from several batteries including a number of 12-pounder cannon that had been landed from the French men-of-war in Pointe à Pitre. When the seamen were ordered up to the front they had to run in order to do so, with the result that whilst Captain Robertson was left to bring forward the rest of the breathless pack once they arrived, only about thirty men were able to join Lieutenant Wolley in launching an attack. But no sooner was one French battery put to flight by the bayonet than another opened up on the attackers, and instead of storming the heights the troops and seamen found themselves stumbling into the enemy-held town of Pointe à Pitre where they were at the mercy of sharpshooters and grape shot. In the bloodbath that followed Captain Robertson was killed and Symes mortally wounded, and in covering the inevitable withdrawal Lieutenant Wolley was felled by a musket ball in the leg and had to be carried to safety by his men. In total the Navy lost seven men killed, twenty-nine wounded and sixteen missing in this unsuccessful assault.
As a result of the failure to carry the heights above Pointe à Pitre Grey was left with little option but to abandon all hope of attacking Fort Fleur d’Epée until the end of the hurricane season, and so after leaving his batteries and a small force in place, and after reinforcing the posts on Basse Terre, the army were evacuated from Grand Terre on 5 July under the superintendence of Rear-Admiral Thompson. Grey and Jervis then repaired to Martinique where the hatches were battened down until the time would come to recommence the campaign against Hugues on Grand Terre. In the weeks that followed sickness began to dissipate the expeditionary force, and the commanders’ thoughts began turning towards some long-hoped for reinforcements that were known to be on their way from England, and whose prompt arrival might well turn the campaign back in their favour.
By August the sick and wounded outnumbered the healthy amongst the British still on Guadeloupe, and the more men that were sent in from the neighbouring islands to supplement the force the more men became ill. American vessels were now able to run the British blockade with impunity in order to ferry in supplies for the French, and once Victor Hugues brought the liberated slaves into his camp he was able to launch an attack on the east coast of Basse Terre on 26 September by landing at Goyanne and Lamentin. The French suffered horrendous casualties in the fighting that ensued, but with the assistance of their gunboats they were able to prevent the defenders receiving any material assistance from the Navy. In response the overwhelmed British could do little more than attempt to evacuate their wounded and then concentrate their remaining forces of some two hundred and fifty troops and three hundred French royalists at Camp Berville, their strongest defensive position on the eastern coast of Basse Terre near Petit Bourg. In the chaos that followed the French attack many atrocities were committed, including the murder of invalids who had been hospitalised at Petit Bourg. Captain Wyndham Bryer of the Assurance 44 was able to bring off some of the wounded but had to witness others being killed as they stumbled or crawled towards the wharf for evacuation in the ship’s boats.
Disdaining the threat of hurricanes, Jervis brought the Boyne over from Martinique to anchor off Grosier on 30 September, but his efforts to open a communication with the surrounded force at Berville were frustrated, and four days later Hugues received their surrender. Then he got his guillotine out, for although a safe conduct was granted to the British troops on the condition that they be taken away in French ships and prohibited from further service in the war, Hugues would countenance no such terms for the French royalists. Twenty-five of their officers were at least allowed safe conduct out to the Boyne, but many of their comrades met the guillotine, and when that process proved too time-consuming the remainder were tethered together, lined up along their erstwhile trenches, and then shot to death or buried alive when the weight of the mass dragged them into the trench to be instantly covered in soil.
Now a race began to secure the last British foothold on Guadeloupe, the town of Basse Terre, and as Hugues began his march across the island Jervis took the Boyne around to anchor off the town on 9 October. Here it was decided to withdraw the remaining troops into Fort Matilda, known today as Fort Delgres, from where they could be supported by the Navy. Once the French arrived they were able to drive the Boyne further out of the bay by erecting batteries ashore, but the lighter Terpsichore, now commanded by the gallant Captain Bowen, was able to anchor under an unoccupied hill within proximity of the fort from where she could maintain a dialogue and supply line. On 25 October the Quebec, Beaulieu and Zebra came into the bay, but this naval reinforcement was more than matched by the supplement of the French attackers ashore, and with further batteries being erected the British foothold became ever more tenuous. On the night of 5 November the French were able to erect a battery on the hill overlooking the Terpsichore, and although Bowen tenaciously attacked it with musketry when he discovered it at daylight he could not gain the required elevation with his cannon and was left with no option other than to withdraw.
On 14 November the first sighting of the long-expected reinforcements from England came with the arrival off Guadeloupe of Vice-Admiral Benjamin Caldwell and a squadron of three sail of the line, these being his flagship Majestic 74, Captain Benjamin Westcott, the Theseus 74, Captain Robert Calder, and the Bellona 74, Captain George Wilson. Caldwell brought news that Lieutenant-General Sir John Vaughan had assumed the command of the Army at Martinique from Grey, and so in turn Jervis, fatigued and worn out by the climate and the long campaign, resigned his own command. After collecting General Grey from Martinique the Boyne set sail on 27 November to eventually arrive at Spithead after a difficult voyage on 21 January 1795.
Once he was fully appraised of the situation on Guadeloupe General Vaughan conceded that the retention of Fort Matilda was no longer tenable, and orders were given for its evacuation. The operation on the night of 10 December, which was superintended by Rear-Admiral Thompson, was handled so smoothly that the French continued to fire into the fort for a good three hours after the last of the four hundred troops had been evacuated. It was also achieved without the loss of a single man, although Captain Bowen was badly wounded in the face by a musket ball. As soon his forces took possession of the empty fort Hugues displayed his revolutionary ardour by destroying Dundas’ monument and leaving his exhumed remains to rot with the declaration that they ‘be given as prey to the birds of the air’
Despite the early success of the campaign a lack of troops, the losses through fever, an under-estimation of the French forces in the region, and a false presumption that the Spanish would be of assistance, had brought about the loss of Guadeloupe, and in the following year Jervis and Grey would see more of their hard work undone by French successes in the Caribbean. In the meantime they arrived home to a tumult of condemnations regarding their financial improprieties in the West Indies, and prevalent amongst those up in arms were the merchants who demanded that all the illegally seized booty be returned to its owners by the agents acting for the British force. In the House of Commons a vote of censure was moved, but as the government could not bear the shame of any dishonesty on the part of their commanders, and the Whig opposition would not dare condemn one of their leading lights in Jervis, the vote was defeated. Conversely, although the admiral went on to achieve greatness in his later career, General Grey was never re-employed.
|Jervis’s fleet that sailed on 26 November:
|Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis
|Flag Captain Hon. George Grey
|Commodore Charles Thompson
|Captain Lord Henry Paulet succeeded in April by Captain Charles Sawyer, succeeded in May by Captain Richard Incledon
|Captain Charles Nugent succeeded in May by Captain Lewis Robertson, and following his death in July by George Bowen and in September by Sampson Edwards
|Captain Josias Rogers
|Captain Edward Riou-succeeded in March by Captain Matthew Henry Scott
|Commander Richard Morice
|Woolwich 44 EF
|Commander John Parker
|Commander Sandford Tatham
|Commander Wyndham Bryer succeeded in April by Acting-Captain Charles Davers, and in May by Commander John Cooke
|Commander Charles Sawyer succeeded by Commander Thomas Rogers in March
|Other Vessels present at the start of the campaign:
|Captain John Henry
|Captain John Salisbury – died in August- succeeded by Captain Edward Riou in March
|Captain Christopher Parker – succeeded in April by Captain Robert Faulknor
|Captain Sampson Edwards – succeeded in September by Captain Richard Bowen
|Captain John Markham
|Captain William Hancock Kelly
|Commander James Carpenter, succeeded in May by Commander William Henry Bayntun
|Commander Matthew Henry Scott – succeeded by Commander d’Arcy Preston in March
|Commander William Pierrepont
|Commander Robert Faulknor -succeeded in March by Commander Richard Bowen and in April by Commander George Vaughan
|Experiement 44 EF
|Commander Simon Miller, succeeded on 2 November by Commander Lancelot Skynner
|Joined the fleet for the attack on Martinique:
|Captain John Brown
|Captain Velters Berkeley succeeded by Acting-Captain Charles Ogle in April and later by Commander Wyndham Bryer who died on 2 November to be succeeded by Captain Charles Sawyer
|Santa Margarita 36
|Captain Eliab Harvey
|Captain Richard Incledon succeeded in May by Captain Thomas Hamilton
|Captain Viscount Garlies
|Commander Andrew Christie
|Joined the fleet in April
|Captain Thomas Hamilton – succeeded in May by Acting-Captain Hon. Charles Herbert, and in July by Captain James Ross
|Joined the fleet at Barbados on 1 May
|Captain John Stanhope, succeeded by Captain Charles Sawyer in May. Became flagship of Rear-Admiral Charles Thompson shortly afterwards with Captain Sawyer, succeeded on 2 November by Captain Simon Miller
|Joined at Barbados on 3 May
|Captain Lewis Robertson succeeded by Captain James Carpenter
|Captured from the French
|Captain Robert Faulknor succeeded by Captain William Bryer in April and Captain Edward Griffith in May
|Commander James Miln succeeded by Captain Edward Griffith in April and thereafter Captain Henry Bayntun and Commander Charles Ogle