Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/408

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317
GENERAL DECAEN

Decaen sailed from Brest in February, 1803. Lord Whitworth, the British ambassador to Paris, watched the proceedings with much care, and promptly directed the attention of his Government to the disproportionate number of officers the new Captain-General was taking with him. The Government passed the information on to the Governor-General of India, Lord Wellesley, who was already determined that, unless absolutely ordered so to do, he would not permit a French military force to land. Before Decaen arrived at Pondicherry, indeed, in June, 1803, Wellesley had received a despatch from Lord Hobart, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, warning him that, notwithstanding the treaty of Amiens, "certain circumstances render desirable a delay in the restitution of their possessions in India" to the French, and directing that territory occupied by British troops was not to be evacuated by them without fresh orders. Great Britain already perceived the fragility of the peace, and, in fact, was expediting preparations for a renewal of war, which was declared in May, 1803.

When, therefore, the French frigate Marengo, with Decaen on board, arrived at Pondicherry, the British flag still flew over the Government buildings, and he soon learnt that there was no disposition to lower it. Moreover, La Belle Poule, which had been sent in advance from the Cape to herald the Captain-General's coming, was anchored between two British ships of war, which had carefully ranged themselves alongside her. Decaen grasped the situation rapidly. A few hours after his arrival, the French brig Bélier appeared. She had left France on March 25th, carrying a despatch informing the Captain-General that war was anticipated, and directing him to land his troops at Ile-de-France, where he was to assume the governorship.

Rear-Admiral Linois, who commanded the French