The incident at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 when Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye and stated “I really do not see the signal!” is the most famous case of a Royal Navy officer disobeying orders and thereby achieving victory. A less well-known case occurred some four decades earlier in the West Indies.
The Seven Years War of 1756 – 1763 should merit the title of “The First World War,” for was the first to be fought on a global scale. It was longer indeed than seven years, for hostilities had opened between Britain and Britain in North America in 1754, triggered by an incident in Pennsylvania involving a 22-year old officer called George Washington. Two years later the conflict took on an even wider European dimension. The British-led alliance included Prussia, Portugal and the smaller German states, including Hanover, and was opposed by a French alliance with the Austrian Empire, Spain, Sweden and Saxony. Russia was initially allied with Austria but changed sides halfway through. Vast in geographical scope, it was a war in which, in Thomas Babington Macaulay’s phrase, European enmities ensured that “black men fought on the coast of Coromandel and red men scalped each other by the great lakes of North America.”
1759 proved to be the “Year of Victories” that firmly
established Britain as a global power with battles won and conquests made by
land and sea. Most notable was the capture of Quebec (and of French Canada
thereafter), the smashing of a French army at Minden in Central Germany and the
two massive naval victories of Lagos and Quiberon Bay. Less well known was the capture
of the French island of Guadeloupe, in the West Indies in M1y 1759 after a
four-month naval and land campaign. As a sugar-producer the island was of great
economic significance and it also acted as a refuge for French privateers.
|Battle of Lagos in 1759 off Portugal - painting by Thomas Luny|
|Sir John Moore|
|The attack on Guadeloupe 1759|
Admiral Clark Gayton
by John Singleton Copeley 1779
The incident did not damage Gayton’s reputation or prospects and he finished his career as an admiral, following a very successful posting as commander of the Jamaica station during the American War of Independence.
An interesting footnote was that Gayton’s ship, the 1230-ton St.George, was one of the oldest major units in the navy at the time of the Guadeloupe action. She had been laid launched in 1668, and originally known as HMS Charles, and renamed St.George in 1691. She was rebuilt in 1701 and six years later was one of the ships to escape the mass-wrecking of Sir Cloudesley Shovell's fleet in the Scilly Isles. She was to be rebuilt twice more – in 1726 and 1740. Having amassed significant battle-honours she was finally broken up in 1774. Few ships of the Royal Navy can have been so long-lived.
Recently published: Britannia’s Spartan
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