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Action of 1744-05-08

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years ago

The Action of 8th May 1744


The British Ship

Ship's NameGunsCommanderNotes

Northumberland64Thomas Watson
The French Squadron

Ship's NameGunsCommanderNotes

Content64de Contlans
Mars64du Perrier


Description of the action taken from Clowse The Royal Navy Vol III

The Northumberland commanded by Captain Thomas Watson, was detached in chase of a strange sail on May 8th by the Vice-Admiral, who was then homeward bound from the Tagus. In view of the sequel, it is worth remembering that Watson was a good and brave officer, favourably known in the service for his work as Vernon's flag-captain at Puerto Bello and Cartagena. But his skull had been fractured, and his mind impaired, so that "a small matter of liquor rendered him quite out of order, which was his unhappy fate that day." The weather grew thick, the chase was lost sight of, and the signal was made for the Northumberland's recall; but Watson held on. Soon three sail were made out to leeward, and as he bore down on them under a press of sail, it was seen that they were two two-decked ships and a frigate. They were, in point of fact, the Content 64 Captain de Contlaiis, Mars 64 captain du Perrier and Venus 26 captain d'Ache.


The French ships lay to under topsails, while the Northumberland bore down on them. Properly handled, the British ship would have had them at a disadvantage, for they were widely separated, and the Content, a mile to windward of her consorts, made no attempt to rejoin them. Watson, therefore, had the option of disabling her before the others could interfere, or of following the counsel of his master, Dixon, who advised him to stand close-hauled to the northward under a press of sail, and so to lead the enemy across the course of the British fleet. This advice was disregarded, and no reasonable nor customary measures were taken to put the ship into a fit state for action.


We bore down so precipitately that our small sails were not stowed, nor top-gallant sails furled, before the enemy began to fire on us, and at the same time we had the cabins to clear away; the hammocks were not stowed as they should be; in short, we had nothing in order


Instead of engaging the weathermost ship, the Content, Watson ran down to leeward without answering her fire, and so had to deal at once with his three enemies. Even then, there was no real reason why the ship should be taken, for the French gunnery was so extremely bad that she was little hurt, and had but few men killed. But Watson fell early in the action, none of the lieutenants were on deck to take command, and the Master ordered the colours to be struck, though there was fight enough left both in the ship and in her crew. The Northumberland was taken into Brest, and till the 1st of June, 1794, for fifty years, the trophy name found a place on French navy lists. When the officers returned to England from their captivity, a court-martial was held. The first lieutenant, Thomas Craven, was honourably acquitted, but Dixon, the master, was condemned for surrendering the ship. The court took into consideration the good advice which he had given his captain before the action, and sentenced him only to be imprisoned for life in the Marshalsea. The court found also that Captain Watson had behaved very rashly and inconsiderately, to which was owing chiefly the loss of her; but death had settled his account.





B030The Royal Navy - Vol IIIWilliam Laird Clowes

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