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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The English had seized Negapatam and Trincomalee


Born

at St. Cannat in Provence, on the 13th of July, 1726, of an old and a notable family amongst the noblesse of his province, Peter Andrew de Suffren, admitted before he was seventeen into the marine guards, had procured his reception into the order of Malta; he had already distinguished himself in many engagements, when M. de Castries gave him the command of the squadron commissioned to convey to the Cape of Good Hope a French garrison promised to the Dutch, whose colony was threatened. The English had seized Negapatam and Trincomalee; they hoped to follow up this conquest by the capture of Batavia and Ceylon. Suffren had accomplished his mission, not without a brush with the English squadron commanded by Commodore Johnston. Leaving the Cape free from attack, he had joined, off Ile-de-France, Admiral d'Orves, who was ill and at death's door. The vessels of the commander (of the Maltese order) were in a bad state, the crews were weak, the provisions were deficient; the inexhaustible zeal and the energetic ardor of the chief sufficed to animate both non-combatants and combatants. When he put to sea on the 7th of December, Count d'Orves still commanded the squadron; on the 9th of February he expired out at sea, having handed over his command to M. de Suffren. All feebleness and all hesitation disappeared from that moment in the management of the expedition. When the nabob sent a French officer in his service to compliment M. de Suffren and proffer alliance, the commander interrupted
the envoy: "We will begin," said he, "by settling the conditions of this alliance;" and not a soldier set foot on land before the independent position of the French force, the number of its auxiliaries, and the payment for its services had been settled by a treaty.

Hyder Ali consented to everything. M. de Suffren set sail to go in search of the English.

[Illustration: Suffren----413]

He sought them for three months without any decisive result; it was only on the 4th of July in the morning, at the moment when Hyder Ali was to attack Negapatam, that a serious engagement began between the hostile fleets. The two squadrons had already suffered severely; a change of wind had caused disorder in the lines: the English had several vessels dismantled; one single French vessel, the _Severe,_ had received serious damage; her captain, with cowardly want of spirit, ordered the flag to be hauled down. His lieutenants protested; the volunteers to whom he had appealed refused to execute his orders. By this time the report was spreading among the batteries that the captain, was giving the order to cease firing; the sailors were as indignant as the officers: a cry arose, "The flag is down!" A complaisant subaltern had at last obeyed the captain's repeated orders. The officers jumped upon the quarter-deck. "You are master of your flag," fiercely cried an officer of the blue, Lieutenant Dien, "but we are masters as to fighting, and the ship shall not surrender!" By this time a boat from the English ship, the _Sultan,_ had put off to board the Severe, which was supposed to have struck, when a fearful broadside from all the ship's port-holes struck the _Sultan,_ which found herself obliged to sheer off. Night came; without waiting for the admiral's orders, the English went and cast anchor under Negapatam.

M. de Suffren supposed that hostilities would be resumed; but, when the English did not appear, he at last prepared to set sail for Gondelour to refit his vessels, when a small boat of the enemy's hove in sight: it bore a flag of truce. Admiral Hughes claimed the _Severe,_ which had for an instant hauled down her flag. M. de Suffren had not heard anything about her captain's poltroonery; the flag had been immediately replaced; he answered that none of the French vessels had surrendered. "However," he added with a smile, "as this vessel belongs to Sir Edward Hughes, beg him from me to come for it himself." Suffren arrived without hinderance at Gondelour (_Kaddalore_).


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