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J 804, and sailed immediately, in company with the Phoebe frigate, to join Lord Nelson off Toulon. On the 30th she was separated from her consort, in a heavy gale of wind, in the gulf of Lyons; and on the 2d of April, at seven in the morning, when no ship was in sight, and they were thirteen leagues from the land, smoke was observed to issue from the fore hatchway. The hammocks were instantly got on deck, and the drum beat to quarters. The fire-engine was set to work, but with little effect; the smoke increased so much, as to prevent the people working on the orlop-deck, the hatches were therefore laid over and secured, the ports barred in, and every measure resorted to, in order to prevent the circulation of air. In the mean time they hove to, and hoisted the boats out; but to prevent the people rushing into them, the marines were kept under arms. Prepared for the worst, they made all sail for the land; providentially the wind was fair, and they stood in for the bay of Rosas, with signals of distress flying at each mast head, but no vessel was in sight to afford them relief. The fire rapidly increasing, the exertions of the Captain and his noble crew increased with the danger. Water was thrown down in torrents, and part of the powder was destroyed or thrown overboard; in doing this one man was suffocated, and the people were again forced to quit the lower decks.
At two o'clock in the afternoon, when they had been seven hours contending with the flames, they made the land. The joy of this discovery is not to be described or felt by any but those who have been in such a perilous situation; but they had still much to do, the land was five leagues off, and at half-past two, the flames flew up the fore and main hatchways, as high as the lower yards. Some of the men now jumped overboard, to get to the boats, and many of them were drowned. Tarpaulins were kept over the hatches, and water still poured down, by which means the flames subsided a little. Many of the people lay apparently lifeless on the decks, from suffocation. The crisis was fast approaching, when human fortitude could do no more. Had not the officers been steady, all must have perished; the mizen-mast was on fire in the Captain's cabin, and the flames bursting from all the lee ports : at five o'clock they ran the ship on shore, about a mile from the beach, in the bay of Rosas. The Spanish boats came off to their assistance, but were afraid to approach near enough to be of any service. At half-past five she was on fire fore and aft, when with an heroic self-devotion, which can never be sufficiently extolled, they first sent away the women, the children, the sick, and the foreigners, after which, the good and gallant Captain, with his brave adherents, quitted the Indostan, and had scarcely reached the shore, when she blew up. The intrinsic value of the ship and cargo, in England, was estimated at 100,000/. what must it have been had she reached the fleet she was intended to sup^ ply? Nelson by this accident was deprived of almost his last resource; yet he bore it like a man and a philosopher. He was infinitely more distressed at the loss of his despatches, which were taken in the Swift cutter, about the same time. In a letter to the Earl of St. Vincent, dated on the 19th of April, he says, speaking of Captain Le Gros, "If his account be correct (he is now upon his trial), he had great merit for the order in which the ship was kept. It must have originated from medicine chests breaking, or from wet getting down, which caused the things to heat. The preservation of the crew seems little short of a miracle. I never read such a journal of exertions in my whole life." Clerk and M'Arthur, vol. ii. p. 361.
By the sentence of the court-martial, the Captain, officers, and ship's company were most honourably acquitted. The fire was supposed to have originated in the breaking of a bottle of aquafortis, in the fore hold. In support of the reasonable conjecture of the Admiral, we might adduce many instances of ships in the cotton trade having been on fire in the hold during a great part of their voyage from China, owing to the cargo having been wet when compressed into the ship: hemp has been known to ignite from the same cause: and the dock-yard of Brest was set on fire by this means in 1757. New painted canvas or tarpaulin laid by before it is completely dry will take fire; and two Russian frigates were nearly burnt by the accidental combination of a small quantity of the soot of burnt fir wood and hemp oil tied up with some matting.
Nearly a month before this disaster, Nelson had written to Sir Thomas Trowbridge, then a lord of the admiralty, stating the exigencies of his fleet: he had despatched a British agent to the Black Sea, to purchase in the Russian dominions a quantity of naval stores and provisions. About this time he was joined by the Royal Sovereign and Leviathan, and cruised off Cape Sepet, with only nine sail of the line.
When Nelson, in January, 1804, weighed from the Madelena islands, he directed Captain Parker, of the Amazon, to remain at anchor in that port, and to guard against any attempt which might be made by the French to invade Sardinia. The Spaniards were at that time so lukewarm towards us, that their conduct in withholding supplies almost amounted to open hostility; and Mr. Frere was desired by Lord Nelson to convey his Lordship's sentiments in the most forcible terms. He wanted frigates as much at that time as in his memorable campaign of 1798; he calls them the eyes of the fleet, an expression which ought never to be forgotten by those who are so fortunate as to command or to serve in that desirable class of vessels. A heavy gale of wind obliged him to take refuge in Agincourt sound; on the 8th of February, they ran in under reefed foresails, through the eastern passage, "which looked," says his Lordship, " tremendous, from the number of rocks and the heavy sea breaking over them; but it is perfectly safe when once known. Captain Ryves's mark of the Pedestal-rock can never be mistaken." During the short interval of his absence, a squadron of frigates escaped out of Toulon, and landed one thousand men in Corsica.
In the month of April, with a view to decoy the French fleet to sea, Nelson directed Sir Richard Bickerton, with one division of the fleet, to the southward, so as not to be seen from the signal posts of Toulon.
In the month of May, the Canopus, Donegal, and Amazon, having stood close in to reconnoitre, were suddenly becalmed under Cape Sepet. The high lands about Toulon render the winds particularly baffling and uncertain; calms and gales of wind follow each other in rapid succession.
While the British ships lay, without the power of advancing or retreating, the French Admiral sent out five sail of the line, who bringing up a fine breeze from the land, a partial action ensued, but without any effect. The British ships soon caught the breeze and stood out, while the French ships returned to Toulon.
On the 14th of June, the Phoebe and Amazon having chased two French frigates into Hieres-bay, prepared to attack them, and the batteries being powerful, the Excellent was directed by Lord Nelson to support the two British frigates. This brought out La Touche Treville, with his whole