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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada

The Memoirs of a Veteran Naval Officer

Lieutenant William Hunter of Greenwich Hospital

[Transcribed by Michael Phillips from the original of 1805]



... It was now the year 1755, when a dispute arising between this country and France (actually war was not declared until 17 May 1756) I felt anxious to return to my duty as a Seaman. The late Sir James Douglas, who died an Admiral, was a school-fellow of my Father's; and then commanded the Bedford, fitting out at Chatham ...

We freighted our ship with as much money as we could procure, and sailed for England; when we were soon put under the command of Admiral Boscawen, who had lately arrived from Halifax, to relieve Sir Edward Hawke of Brest. The threats of invasion had been made by the French, who immediately after the declaration of war collected a formidable number of flat-bottomed boat for that purpose, and greatly alarmed our Government. On our second return from the Western Squadron to re-fit, Capt. Douglas left us, and Capt. Fowke succeeded him. We sailed under Admiral Holburne from St. Helens, 16 April 1757, the troops destined for North America were to embark at Cork; which having done , we left that harbour on 7th May, and arrived at Halifax on the 9th July. During our passage we carried away our main-mast, and with it one of the greatest rogues that ever entered on board a Man of War, called Spanish Tom; the rascal, however, though born to be hung, a punishment he afterwards underwent, was not born to be drowned.

At the time the accident happened he was stationed in the main-top, and was precipitated with it to a great depth in the Ocean; he, however rose like a cork, and to our astonishment survived. On our arrival in Halifax in Halifax we took the Arc de Ciel`s main-mast for a main-mast, and proceeded with the rest of the Admiral`s fleet to cruise off Louisbourg. We stood in close with the harbour and saw a number of Ships of War lying there; then returned to Halifax, re-victalled our Fleet, and appeared again off Louisbourg to block up the enemy.

This attempt to block up the the powerful French fleet in Louisbourg. was made in consequence of the arrival of Capt. Geary, in the Somerset,64, with the Devonshire,64, Capt. W. Gordon; Eagle,60, Capt. Hugh Palliser; and the York,60, Capt. Hugh Pigot. But the whole was frustrated by a dreadful Hurricane which blew dead on shore; it began in the east, in the evening of September 23, and during the night veered round to the south; and thus continued with a violence that had never been surpassed, for the time it lasted, until eleven o'clock the next morning; when it got round to the north. The ran on shore, and was wrecked about two leagues from Louisbourg; her Captain and most of her Crew perished. The Ferret sloop foundered, and every soul went to the bottom. Our ship, unlike most others, was not dismasted, her masts were saved by knocking out the wedges. When the gale first came on, there were but little hopes that any of the Fleet would be saved, as we were only thirteen leagues from the land. Had not Providence favoured us with a shift of Wind of eight points, it would have been all over with us. Many of the disabled ships were sent to England under Sir Charles Hardy and Commodore Holmes. We were ordered to take Prince Frederick in tow; and proceed with her to Aqua Forta in Newfoundland, the Admiral returned with the other ships to Halifax, and thence to England,; leaving the command to Lord Colvill in the Northumberland. Having fitted the Prince Frederick with jury masts, we returned home with a large convoy. During our passage another hard gale came on at S.W. The Convoy was totally dispersed, and never joined company; and the Prince Frederick again rolled away her masts. On our arrival at Plymouth, where the Bedford was docked, I found a considerable degree of party spirit had arisen in consequence of the conduct of Admiral Holburne, and Lord Loudoun, who commanded the land forces. One of the best answers that appeared, was a letter from a gentleman in Bristol dated September the 17th, an extract from which is preserved. The ingenious writer concluded with the following postcript:- "No Captain of a Man of War ought to be consulted about wintering in Halifax; not one of them will give his vote for it, as there are no public diversions there. Nor should any man be listened to who deals in Navy Jobs."

The year 1758 is ever memorable to a Seaman, for the Bill that was then brought forward, and passed under the auspices of the Hon. Mr George Grenville, enabling our honest Tars to remit money with care and safety, to their families.

Government had resolved that the operations in America should commence with the siege of Louisbourg. The gallant Admiral Boscawen, who, on 5 February had been promoted Admiral of the Blue, was appointed to command the fleet, having under him Sir Charles Hardy, lately made a Rear Admiral of the White, and Commodore Philip Durell. These two officers sailed previous to the remainder of the fleet, the first early in January, the other in February. We followed with the Admiral on the 19th of the same month, having a number of Transports in company. For the better preservation of the Soldier's health, this prudent Commander made a southern passage, by getting into the Trade Winds, which ran down a great part of our longitude. We made Madeira, Teneriffe and the Bermudas; and having arrived at our destination, Left Halifax on 28 May, and with a fleet of 157 sail stood for Gabreuse Bay, the general rendezvous.

the success of this attack is well known. I witnessed the landing of our brave troops under the most tremendous fire of cannon and musketry. We though as much of this exploit at the time, as we have since of the landing in Egypt. On the capitulation of Louisbourg our ships went into the harbour; and soon afterwards the Admiral sailed for England with part of the squadron, leaving the remainder to winter in America with Rear Admiral Durell, who had been promoted in August. By this Admiral`s order Capt. Fowke discharged me into the flagship, the Princess Amelia.

We remained some weeks in Louisbourg Harbour; but whilst there, were hardly secure from a gale of wind that blew with much violence. Our anchor came home, and the Captain ordered the sheet anchor to be cut away; when, observing that our Men were cutting the stopper in a very awkward manner, I ran forward, seized the axe and cut it away myself. - This was not lost on Capt. Bray, and from this time I became a great favourite of his, as well as of the Admiral. We wintered in Halifax; and waited there until the ensuing spring, for the arrival of Admiral Boscawen, our successor on the station, with a powerful reinforcement.

The year 1759, termed by Paul Whitehead Annus Mirabilis, or the year of wondrous Feats, was particularly brilliant both in Naval and Military Events, as that Poet described it in Stanzas well-known to Seamen.

"Of Roman and Greek
Let Fame no more speak,
How their Arms the Old World did subdue;
Through the Nations around
Let our trumpets now sound,
How Britons have conquer`d the new.
East, West, North and South.
Oupr Cannon`s loud mouth
Shall the rights of our Monarch maintain;
On America`s strand
AMHERST limits the land,
BOSCAWEN gives law to the Main."

The French, irritated by their constant defeats, were again reduced to the necessity of threatening England and Ireland with a formidable Invasion. But they soon found cause, paticularly from our achievements in America, to lay aside their gasconading accounts on a new construction, which were to steal across the Channel in a dark night, and carry all before them.

Admiral Boscawen was succeeded in North America by Vice Admiral Saunders; who sailed from England on the 17 February, with General Wolfe, in order to co-operate with him in an expedition against Quebec. This was only one of four grand Expeditions in America, planned originally by the Earl of Loudoun, which this year, 1759, were carried into effect. Sir Charles Saunders, I remember, had his Flag on board the Neptune,90, Capt. Broderick Hartwell; and Admiral Holmes, who left England a few weeks before him, on board the Dublin; a name that I hope will one day be be again revived in our dockyards. This fleet arrived within sight of Louisbourg on the 21 April; but found the harbour so choked up with ice, that the Admiral was obliged to proceed to Halifax.

We were sent early in May with a Squadron to the small Isle de Coudre, situated in the middle of the River St. Lawrence, about 20 leagues below Quebec; in order to interupt some French Transports and Victuallers, who had proceeded up the river ....

... On the 8 August the Squadron under Capt. Deane passed Trois Rivieres, about half way between Quebec and Montreal; and having removed a strong Boom placed across the River, anchored on the 12th off Sorrel, where the enemy had a strong post. The Diana remained below Trois Rivieres to keep up the communications. Lord Rolls, with the Troops from Louisbourg, followed General Murray up the River on board a small Squadron conducted by Lieut. Garnier of the Navy, who was sent on this service by Lord Colvill; and about a league from Trois Rivieres, Lieut. Garnier was superseded ...

... suffice it therefore to add, that on the 12 February Martinico yielded, like Louisbourg, Quebec and Montreal, to British valour; and soon afterwards Granada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. I must now repair to a still more stupendous instance of British Heroism. Having been almost frozen amidst the severe cold of North America, I now, after a genial thawing at the Leeward Islands, was nearly roasted at the Havana. Fortunately, like othe Seamen, I was happily blessed with an accomodating, amphibious sort of constitution ....

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