Queen Anne - from A.D. 1702 to A.D. 1714.
Admiral Benbow had in the meantime been despatched to the West Indies, in command of a small squadron, to prevent the Spanish islands from falling into the power of France. Hearing that Monsieur de Casse, the French admiral, had sailed for Carthagena, he pursued him. On the 19th of August, in the afternoon, he discovered ten sail steering westward along the shore under their topsails. Upon this, he threw out a signal for a line of battle. The frigates being a long time coming up, and the night advancing, Benbow steered alongside the French, having disposed his line of battle in the following manner:—The Defiance, Pendennis, Windsor, Breda, Greenwich, Ruby, and Falmouth. Though he endeavoured to near them, he intended not to make any attack until the Defiance had got abreast of the headmost. He, however, was compelled before long to open his fire; but after two or three broadsides had been exchanged, the Defiance and Windsor luffed up out of gunshot, leaving the two sternmost ships of the enemy engaged with the admiral, while his own ships in the rear did not come up as he had expected. He afterwards altered his line of battle. The next morning at daybreak, he was near the French ships, but none of his squadron, excepting the Ruby, were with him, the rest lying some miles astern. There was but little wind, and though the admiral was within gunshot of the enemy, they did not fire. In the afternoon, a sea-breeze springing up, the enemy got into line and made what sail they could, while the rest of the English ships not coming up, the admiral andRuby plied them with chase-guns, and kept them company all the next night. On the 21st the admiral again exchanged fire with the enemy’s fleet, as did the Ruby, and he would have followed had not the Ruby been in such a condition that he could not leave her. The Ruby was so disabled during this and the following day, that the admiral ordered her to return to Port Royal.
The rest of the squadron now came up, and the enemy being but two miles off, the gallant Benbow was at last in hopes of doing something, and continued, therefore, to steer after them, but again, all his ships, with the exception of the Falmouth, were astern, and at twelve the enemy began to separate. Early on the morning of the 24th he again came within hail of the sternmost of the French ships. At three, while hotly engaged with them, the admiral’s right leg was shattered to pieces by a chain-shot, and he was carried below, but soon after, he ordered his cradle on the quarter-deck, and the fight was continued till daylight, when one of the enemy’s ships, of 20 guns, was discovered to be very much disabled. A strong breeze now brought the enemy down upon him, when three of his own ships getting to leeward of the disabled ship, fired their broadsides and stood to the southward. Then came the Defiance, which, after exchanging fire with the disabled ship, put her helm a-weather and ran away before the wind, without any regard to the signal of battle. The French seeing the two ships stand to the southward, and finding that they did not attack, immediately bore down upon the admiral, and running between their disabled ship and him, poured in all their shot, by which they brought down his main-topsail yard, and shattered his rigging very much.
Some time after this, his line of battle signal flying all the while, Captain Kirby came on board and told him that he had better desist, that the French were very strong, and that from what was past, he would guess he would make nothing of it. On this he sent for the rest of the captains. They obeyed him, but were most of them of Captain Kirby’s opinion. This satisfied the admiral that they were not inclined to fight; when, had they supported him, the whole French fleet might have been captured. On this he returned with his squadron to Jamaica. As soon as he arrived he ordered a court-martial on the captains who had deserted him. One, Captain Hudson, died a few days before his trial came on. Captains Kirby and Wade were condemned to death, and being sent home, were shot immediately on their arrival at Plymouth, in 1703.