Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/474

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373
THE ORDER OF RELEASE

down by 1807; his prisoner was a charge on the establishment to the extent of 5400 francs a year, and Decaen was a thrifty administrator; why, then, should he apparently have hardened his heart to the extent of disobeying the Emperor's command? The explanation is not to be found in his temper, but in the military situation of Ile-de-France, and his belief that Flinders was accurately informed about it; as was, indeed, the case.

At this time Decaen was holding Ile-de-France by a policy fairly describable as one of "bluff." The British could have taken it by throwing upon it a comparatively small force, had they known how weak its defences were. But they did not know; and Decaen, whose duty it was to defend the place to the utmost, did not intend that they should if he could prevent information reaching them. After the crushing of French naval power at Trafalgar and the British occupation of the Cape, Decaen's position became untenable, though a capitulation was not forced upon him till four years later. He constantly demanded reinforcements and money, which never came to hand. The military and financial resources of France were being strained to prosecute Napoleon's wars in Europe. There were neither men nor funds to spare for the colony in the Indian Ocean. Decaen felt that his position was compromised.[1] He addressed the Emperor personally "with all the sadness of a wounded soul," but nothing was done for Ile-de-France. There was not enough money to repair public buildings and quays, which fell into ruins. There was no timber, no sail-cloth to re-fit ships. Even nails were lacking. A little later (1809) he complained in despatches of the shortness of flour

  1. "Il sentait sa position compromise." Prentout page 521; who gives an excellent account of the situation.