Ship Valentine on a Cruise, Monday the 10th day of August 1778
At 5PM the Commodore made the signal for all Commanders upon which I went on board the Rippon and at a Consultation respecting the Eligibility of Engaging the French fleet it was the unanimous opinion to fight them. Captain Panton in the Seahorse was appointed to lead upon both Tacks, with the Valentine second. I received orders to keep my ship prepared for action.
At day light the French fleet to Windward in sight from the Main Top, bearing down and showing their colours when immediately the Squadron haul’d up for them & having near’d them within two leagues the Commodore made the signal to form into a close line of Battle, one ship ahead of another. The Seahorse in the vanguard, the Valentine second, Rippon third & Coventry in the rear, the Cormorant sloop outside of the line upon the Commodore’s off beam. In this order we went under our Topsails & Top Gallant Sails. The French squadron form’d themselves into a line of Battle ahead their flag on board the Brilliant leading the van, Le Pourvcouse second, Le Sortain third, L’Orison fourth, and Le Brisson in the rear; and in this order under their topsails they waited for us to attack them but with so light a wind that the two Fleets closed very slowly
At one o’clock, on the wind shifting in our favour, Sir Edward Vernon threw out the signal to make sail ahead in order to near the enemy & sent an officer with orders to Captain Panton of the Seahorse to keep at a farther distance ahead and with directions to me that when I should observe the Seahorse make sail to go ahead, to make sail in the Valentine to keep up with her, which orders were immediately obeyed by both ships.
Captain Ogilvie goes into considerable detail to explain that his orders, as specified by the signals and the Articles of the Fighting Instructions, could not properly be executed as the two fleets were sailing on different tacks, and I get the impression he wanted to justify his actions in case anything went wrong. However the two ships Seahorse and Valentine obeyed as best they could and bore towards the French under their topsails. Unlike Hollywood films, the story seems to unfold in slow motion…
At two o’clock Sir Edward Vernon made the signal to engage, but I judged the distance too great and Captain Panton seem’d to be of the same opinion as he reserved his fire likewise. At half past two the Vans of the two Fleets were very near when the Brilliant & Le Pourvcouse began the action by firing on the Seahorse and Valentine, which we returned soon after, and having a very light air of wind we were alongside of them very closely engaged for a considerable time. But the two Squadrons being, as I have before observed, upon different tacks and the Rippon coming into the action, we pass’d the Brilliant and Pourvcouse and with the Seahorse came up and engaged the three ships of the enemies rear.
The Valentine having come the length in the enemies line of the Sortain I immediately bore down upon her & wore the ship round upon the same tack with her in order to lay her fairly alongside, which as the Sortain declined a closer action, obliged her to bear up. This broke the enemies line and occasioned the rear ships of their Fleet to fall to leeward, and entirely disjoin them from their leading ships, the Brilliant & Pourvcouse. They, upon coming along side of the Rippon, had set their foresails and soon passed ahead, to all appearance running off and leaving their rear to their fate. Sir Edward Vernon, when he had passed the Brilliant and Pourvcouse likewise wore ship and the whole Squadron got upon the same tack with the enemy.
But now only the rear of their Fleet was engaged with the Seahorse & Valentine. As both ships had run the gauntlet and were almost wrecks in their sails and rigging and having got considerably to leeward of the Rippon and Coventry by endeavouring to bring the enemy into closer action, the French rear taking the advantage of our shattered condition; made sail in order to push ahead of us and to endeavour to close with their van. I set the foresail and what sail we could make in order to keep up with them but all we could make being very little, they drew ahead of us fast.
The English rearguard were in good condition, with no signs of having suffered in any material manner, and tried to engage the enemies rear. The French Commodore came to their assistance and with the Pourvcouse came back alongside, engaging the Rippon & Coventry. As they were again upon different tacks they soon passed each other; after which the two French ships both bore down upon the Valentine which obliged her to abandon any further pursuit of the enemy’s rear.
The log continues…
Here I cannot omit without great unjustice to all my officers and men to make particular mention of the gallantry with which they received and sustained the very unequal fire of those two heavy ships and the manliness with which they stood their quarters and plied their guns.
For a considerable time we were unsupported against them, but in justice to Captain Panton of the Seahorse who was astern of the Valentine, it is my duty to observe that he did every thing in his power to get to our assistance as soon as possible, and very gallantly turning upon the Valentines weather quarter, betwixt the Brilliant and us, took off their fire from us, soon after which the Brilliant and Pourvcouse hauld their wind and crowded sail towards Pondicherry Road.
The three remaining French ships continued the battle but…
… I could only edge down a little to have a flying knock with the enemies rear ships as they pass’d us and we exchanged several broad sides with each of them as they came up, but they were in a great hurry to join their Van, who were flying with every sail out they could set. At this time the Seahorse had past ahead of the Valentine and during our last encounter with the three ships of the enemies rear was upon our off bow and we were left to bring up the rear, but in so shattered a condition that having very little sail to set the Commodore hove too in order to let us come up and thus at the close of the day ended our engagement. The French Squadron with all sail set standing, or more properly flying to Pondicherry Road and the English too much damaged to be able to pursue them. I say so at least of the Valentine ~
To return to The Valentine: The East India Company's Ships at Trade and War, click here