[From King Orry to Queen Victoria, 1899]
CAPTURE AND SACK OF CARRICKFERGUS BY THUROTS
FRENCH SQUADRON STREET - FIGHTING ACT OF
HEROISM BY A FRENCH PRIVATE SOLDIERSURRENDER OF THE GARRISON RETREAT OF THE
FRENCHCHASE OF THE ENEMY BY COMMODORE
ELLIOTS SQUADRONNAVAL ENGAGEMENT OFF JURBY
POINTDEATH OF THUROT AND CAPTURE OF ALL
THE THREE FRENCH VESSELS, AND THEIR ARRIVAL
IN RAMSEY BAY.
CAPTAIN FRANÇOIS THUROT, the Frenchman who had been one of the most successful smugglers engaged in the Manx contraband trade, gained such a reputation for boldness and good seamanship, that when war was declared in 1756 A.D. between England and France, he was given the command of a privateer, hailing from his native port of Dunkirk.
He was very successful in preying on the small English homeward-bound vessels that had not heard of the declaration of war, so much so as to attract the attention of the French Admiralty.
The French Government placed him in command of a smart frigate of 44 gunsthe Maréchial Belleisleand soon afterwards of a small squadron, with which he cruised in the North Sea and St. Georges Channel, plundering when and where any safe Opportunity offered, but taking good care to keep as much as possible out of the way of any English cruisers.
On February 19, 1760 A.D., his squadron, consisting of his own ship, the Maréchial Belleisle, of 44 guns and 540 men; Le Terpsichore, of 26 guns and 300 men (Captain Defravandois); and Le Blonde, of 32 guns and 400 men (Captain La Kayse), was off the NorthEast Coast of Ireland, and hearing that Carrickfergus was in a defenceless state, and offered an easy prize, he entered the river, anchored two miles and a half below the town, and on the 21st landed 600 men to attack it.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jennings, the commandant of the town, had but four companies of raw and undisciplined recruits under his command, and set to work to make the best possible defence. He removed all the French prisoners who were in the castle, and sent them off under guard to Belfast, with a request for the despatch of reinforcements.
The Castle of Carrickfergus was quite untenable, and had a breach in the walls 50 feet wide. The French troops made a regular attack without loss of time, but were repulsed at first. The English supply of shot gave out, and very soon after, both powder and provisions gave out as well. So long as the powder lasted, the guns were loaded with stones; but Colonel Jennings was obliged to surrender after a gallant defence and very stubborn fight, but only on condition that they should not be taken away to France, and that they should be ransomed by the exchange of an equal number of French officers and men, at that time prisoners of war in England and Ireland, and that the town should not be plundered.
This latter condition the French utterly disregarded, and regularly sacked the town of everything portable, as was fully proved when the ships arrived in Ramsey Bay with the plunder on board.
The French have no rivals in looting, as has been amply proved by the exploits in that way of the armies of Napoleon all over Europe, down to the pillage of the Winter Palace of Pekin in the last Anglo-French war with China in 1863 A.D.
Immediately after the town had been looted, an alarm was given to the French that a regiment was rapidly marching from Belfast, and Thurot at once ordered the retreat and re-embarkment of his troops, leaving his dead and wounded to the tender mercies of the British.
One incident in the fighting, the heroic conduct of a French soldier, well deserves to be recorded.
While the troops were hotly engaged fighting in the street, a little child ran out of a house playfully between the two opposing forces, having no idea of the danger to which it was exposed.
A private soldier of the French combatants, perceiving the extreme danger of the child, grounded his musket, advanced deliberately between the two lines of fire, took the little one in his arms and conveyed it to a place of safety; then, returning to his station, resumed his musket and renewed his fighting.
Commodore John Elliot had been appointed in 1758 A.D. to the command of the AEolus, a new frigate of 32 guns and 220 men, recently launched; and in the early spring of 1760 A.D. he was senior officer on the East Coast of Ireland Station, and with the Pallas frigate, of 36 guns and 240 men (Captain Logger), and the Brilliant frigate, of 36 guns and 240 men (Captain Clements), was lying in Kinsale on February 21.
Information arrived from the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland that Thurots squadron was then off Car rickfergus. Every effort was immediately used to de spatch the three frigates to sea to go after the French.
At the moment of the news arriving the Palias was lying with her foretopmast badly sprung; but such was the smartness of her officers and crew, that the yards were got down on deck, the topmast stripped and lowered, and a fresh one up, with the yards across, within three - quarters of an hour of the order being given.
No time was lost in getting to sea, and on February 24 the English squadron was off Carrick fergus, where the weather was tempestuous and the wind contrary.
Elliot then heard the French ships, three in number, had left, and on learning the course they had steered, he set all possible sail in pursuit immediately, and was fortunate enough to discover them off the West Coast of the Isle of Man at 4 a.m. on the 26th.
Chase was immediately commenced, and with such success that by 9 a.m. the AEolus brought the Maréchial Belleisle, Thurots ship, to action.
Fearing the clever ex-smuggler might escape, the Commodore ordered his men to direct their fire of the first broadside entirely at the rigging of the Maréchal Belleisle, which they did with most excellent effect. The slings of her main-yard were shot away, and her mizzen-mast so badly wounded a little above the deck, that when Captain Thurot tried to put his ship about on the other tack to escape being raked by the Brilliant, which was making for crossing her stern, the mast gave way and came clattering down on the deck, with all the yards and rigging from the deck upwards, which in its fall killed and wounded several of the crew and created the greatest confusion.
On seeing the effects of his broadside, Commodore Elliot immediately signalled both the Pallas and Brilliant to make for the other two of the enemys ships and bring them to close action.
The fire of the AEolus was resumed with terrible effect, and a continuous cannonade was poured into the Maréchal Belleisle for over an hour, when the order was given to board, and on the English ship closing with her antagonist, one of the lieutenants headed the boarding party, and with his own hands hauled down the Frenchmans colours; on seeing which, the senior officer in command at once sur rendered.
The gallant Thurot, who had fought his ship well, had been killed before the boarding, and the victors were deprived of the satisfaction of performing the last offices to their brave enemy, for his body had been thrown overboard into the sea by his own men directly after his death.
In addition to losing her mizzen-mast, the Maréchal Belleisle had her bowsprit shot away, and the main-yard, in falling on deck from the injured slings, lay athwart the deck, having crushed down the bulwarks on both sides.
The captains of the Pallas and Brilliant had mean while lost no time in engaging the other two ships of the enemy, and very shortly after the first broadside of the £olus all six ships were engaged, and the action became general.
The Pallas being a faster ship than the Brilliant, Captain Logger crowded all possible sail on her, passed ahead of both the enemys disengaged frigates, and boldly crossed the bows of Le Terpsichore, delivering her broadside gun after gun, as she passed, every shot striking with deadly effect. She then tacked, fell off on the wind, coming round like a top, and took up a position on the larboard side of her antagonist, and engaged till her colours were lowered and she sur rendered, a few minutes after the Maréchal Belleisles boarders had hauled down her flag.
The Brilliant meanwhile had managed to get to close quarters with Le Blonde, and after a well-con tested fight closed with her, and on seeing the colours of the Maréchal Belleisle were coming down, Captain Clements gave the orders to board, and the ship was captured in less than ten minutes.
The whole action was now over, having taken an hour and a half from the firing of the first shot to the surrender of the whole three ships of the French squadron.
The engagement was fought off the North-West Coast of the Isle of Man on February 26, and not off the Irish Coast on the 28th, as erroneously stated in more than one history, Cassells History of England being one of them. As the ships were not far from the Manx Coast at Jurby Point, the fight from first to last was viewed by a large concourse of the parishioners of Jurby, Michael and Ayre, and in all probability the Bishop of the island, Dr. Mark Hildesley, as well, as he must have heard the firing, and wrote to Commodore Elliot immediately after the fight was over to congratulate him on his victory.
Each of the three French frigates was larger than the English vessels, and carried more men. The loss sustained by the enemy was very considerable, amounting to over 300 men and officers killed and wounded, including the brave Francois Thurot, who fought his ship most gallantly till he fell. Several of the principal officers were among the slain and wounded.
In all the British ships together not more than four were killed and thirty-one wounded.
The superiority in guns was very slightly on the side of the English, the three ships carrying 104, to 102 on the French ships, so slight, in fact, as hardly worthy of notice, while the superiority in numbers of men was greatly in favour of the enemy, whose ships carried 1,245, against 700 on board Commodore Elliots squadron.
The Maréchal Belleisle had not only lost her mizzenmast, bowsprit and spars, already mentioned, but was so badly hulled that it was with the utmost difficulty her prize crew, even with the assistance of a number of Manx fishermen, very opportunely rendered, could get her into Ramsey and prevent her foundering off the Point of Ayre.
A number of fishing boats hovered about the scene of the engagement, keeping at a respectful distance from the shots, and so soon as they saw how the fight was going they drew nearer, and on the lowering of the fleur-de-lis bespangled flags, they closed in and tendered their assistance, which was gladly accepted.