Agamemnon Opens Fire on the Ca Ira, 13th March 1795 by Geoff Hunt.
Like most Royal Navy officers of his time, Nelsons continuing career was subject to the vicissitudes of the Services operational needs. After paying off Boreas in 1787 Nelson spent five years on the beach in his native Norfolk. In the winter of 1792, it looked as though, at last, Revolutionary France would declare war on England. To Nelsons delight, his endless entreaties to the Admiralty finally bore fruit. On 7th January 1793 he was appointed to command HMS Agamemnon. Nelson looked forward to his new command with enthusiasm. He was 34 years old, mature, experienced, with 14 years seniority on the post list and he had spent much of the last five years thinking about naval tactics. If Nelson was in the prime of life then so also was Agamemnon. Built twelve years previously, of New Forest Oak, she was launched at Bucklers Hard on the river Beaulieu in Hampshire and was, unusually at that time, for the technique was then still quite new, copper-bottomed. In 1793 Agamemnon was, for her size, one of the fastest warships afloat anywhere. Her 64 guns made her technically a thirdrate, by this date the smallest type to appear in the line of battle. Once in commission, Nelson decided that her size did not matter: far more importantly, she sailed well, and her strength and speed would offer opportunities a larger vessel might miss. It was said, she could outsail anything she could not outgun and outgun anything she could not outsail. As far as possible, Nelson recruited his crew from volunteers in Norfolk where he was well-known and which anyway had the reputation for producing fine seamen. The high proportion of volunteers undoubtedly contributed to the effectiveness of a ship that was to become renowned for its fighting efficiency. After a brief interlude of Channel patrols Agamemnon was soon despatched to the Mediterranean to serve under the command of Admiral Lord Hood. France had finally declared war on England on 1st February. For the next three years Nelson and Agamemnon served with distinction in a variety of naval operations in the Mediterranean. A happy ship, devoted to their Captain, Agamemnon was never far from the action. As might be expected with Nelson in command, many of the actions were somewhat unconventional. Perhaps the most notable of these was his involvement in the amphibious campaign in Corsica which finally resulted in the capture of Calvi. The incident portrayed in Geoff Hunts painting took place on 13th March 1795. By this time Lord Hood had been succeeded by Vice-Admiral Hotham as Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. Hothams hesitancy and caution did not endear him to Nelson. The blockade of Toulon, a central part of British naval strategy, continued under Hotham who on 6th March ordered part of the fleet to pursue seventeen enemy ships of the line and five smaller ships that had been observed emerging from Toulon, bound for Corsica. Poor winds handicapped the pursuit but at dawn on 13th March the British fleet found itself twelve miles from a retreating enemy with Agamemnon, the fastest ship in the fleet, pulling away from the rest except for Captain Fremantles Inconstant. The French might have escaped altogether but one of their 80-gun sIrips of the line - the Ca Ira - had been in collision with another and lost her fore and main topmasts. The Inconstant, a frigate of only 36 guns, engaged the Ca Ira but had to withdraw badly damaged. Agamemnon, now several miles ahead of the rest of the fleet, was the next to engage. By this rime the Ca Ira was in tow by the Vestale and was protected by two other ships of the line - one of 74, the other of 120 guns. Nelsons technique of dealing with the far larger Ca Ira which Nelson described as absolutely large enough to have taken the Agamemnon in her hold was to attack her from the stern so that the Ca Ira could never bring either of her devastating broadsides to bear. However, considerable damage was done by her stern chasers. Nelson had not intended to fire until he was almost touching the Ca Ira but he changed his mind, allowing Agamemnon to bear away from the line of pursuit so that her broadside could be fired. It is precisely this moment that is portrayed in the painting. For 2 and a half hours Agamemnon slowly closed on the Ca Ira in the light airs, slowed only by bearing away to fire her broadside. Although Agamemnon was constantly hit by the accurate stern chaser fire from Ca Ira and her sails and rigging considerably damaged none of the ships crew were killed although some were wounded. The Ca Ira, on the other hand, was hit constantly by the double-shotted broadsides and suffered heavy casualties. By 1pm the signal of recall had been hoisted by Hotham and to Nelsons great irritation the Ca Ira was allowed to escape. She was captured next day by a larger force of British ships but Nelson was appalled at Hothams decision not to continue his pursuit of the main fleet. Absolutely in the horrors, as he described it, he heard Admiral Hotham say: We must be contented: we have done very well. In a further letter about the action Nelson spelled out his own ambition: I wish to be an Admiral, and in command of the English fleet. I should very soon either do much, or be ruined. My disposition cannot bear tame and slow measures.
|Item Code : LI0020||Agamemnon Opens Fire on the Ca Ira, 13th March 1795 by Geoff Hunt. - This Edition|
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