Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/73

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
45
THE BATTLE OFF BREST

plans of the British Admiral. The signal for close action was flown from the masthead of the Queen Charlotte. Howe ordered his ships to sail on an oblique course down upon the French line, the two fleets having during the night lain in parallel lines stretching east and west. The intention was to break the French line near the centre, each British captain sailing round the stern of his antagonist, and fighting her to leeward, thus concentrating the attack on the enemy's rear, cutting it off from the van, and preventing flight.

The Bellerophon was the second ship in the British line, next after the Caesar. Flinders was upon the quarterdeck as she steered through her selected gap, which was on the weather quarter of the Eole; and an anecdote of his behaviour on that memorable occasion fortunately survives. The guns on the quarterdeck were loaded and primed ready for use, but Pasley did not intend to fire them until he had laid himself on the lee of his chosen adversary, and could pour a broadside into her with crushing effect. There was a moment when the gunners were aloft trimming sails. As the Bellerophon was passing close under the stern of the French three-decker—within musket-shot, James says—[1] Flinders seized a lighted match and rapidly fired as many of the quarterdeck guns as would plump shot fairly into her.[2] Pasley saw him and, shaking him by the collar, said, sternly: "How dare you do that, youngster, without my orders?" Flinders replied that he "thought it a fine chance to have a shot at 'em." So it was, though not in conformity with orders; and probably Pasley, as good a fighter as there was in the fleet, liked his young aide-de-camp rather the more for his impetuous action.

The guns of the Bellerophon were opened upon the

  1. Naval History, I., 154.
  2. Naval Chronicle, XXXII., 180.