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Action of 1794-05-06

Page history last edited by mcquinleys@... 12 years, 2 months ago

On the morning of the 5th of May, as the British 74-gun ship Swiftsure, captain Charles Boyles, and 64-gun ship St.-Albans, Captain James Vashon, were a few days out from Cork, with a convoy in charge, two strange sail, apparently frigates, hove in sight to the westward. Both British ships immediately went in chase. At 5 h. 45 m. p.m. the Swiftsure hoisted her colours, and fired three shot at the larger and rearmost of the two frigates; who thereupon fired a stern-chaser in return, and ran up the republican ensign, as did also her consort. The latter presently afterwards bore up, and was pursued by the St.-Albans; while the Swiftsure continued in close chase of the former, which was the french 36-gun frigate Atalante, captain Charles-Alexandre-Leon Durand-Linois.

After dark, the St.-Albans and her frigate, which ultimately escaped, were seen no more; but the Swiftsure kept sight of the Atalante during the night. At 4 a.m. on the 6th the Atalante bore from the Swiftsure west by north two or three miles, the wind at this time being about north-north-east. The pursuit was continued during the day; and, at 5h. 30m. P.m. the Swiftsure commenced tiring her bowchasers. At 7 P.m. the latter ceased tiring, the Atalante having increased her distance to about two miles. At midnight, vainly hoping that the manoeuvre would be unseen by her persevering foe, the Atalante changed her course to the southward. On the 7th, at 2 a.m., the french frigate hauled yet more up, and the Swiftsure promptly did the same. At 2h. 30 m. a.m. the latter commenced firing her starboard guns forward, and the action continued, at long range, until 3h. 25 m. a.m.; when the Atalante, being crippled in her rigging and sails, and having sustained, out of her complement of 274 men and boys, the severe loss of 10 killed and 32 wounded, struck her colours. The Swiftsure had her rigging and sails also cut, and lost one man killed.

The endeavours of M. Linois to save his ship from capture, and to disable his enemy from pursuit, were highly meritorious, and prove that, had he met, instead of a British 74, a British 12-pounder frigate, the Atalante, if conquered at all, would have been dearly purchased.

Scarcely had the prisoners been shifted, a prize crew placed on board the Atalante, and the rigging of both ships put a little to rights, when, at 10 a.m., three french 74s, judged to be a part, of M. Nielly's squadron, were discovered in chase of the Swiftsure and her prize. The two latter immediately separated, and steered different courses; but it was not until 10 p.m. that the Swiftsure lost sight of her pursuers. The Atalante, exerting the same powers for which she had been so long celebrated in the french navy, but which had failed to carry her clear of the Swiftsure's loug-reachcd and well-directed shot, ran away from her ci-devant friends, and actually bent a new main topsail while they were in pursuit of her.

The Atalante measured 986 tons, and was armed precisely as the Engageante. On being purchased for the use of the British navy, the prize became classed as a 12-pounder 36, but under the name of Espion, an Atalante sloop of war being already in the service.

From William James Vol.I

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