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Hughes
Hughes
173

in condition to offer effective resistance. The town and the lower fort were occupied on the night of 5 Jan. 1782, the Dutch retreating to Fort Osnaburg on a commanding eminence. Preparations were immediately made for reducing this fort, and on the 9th Hughes sent in a formal summons as well as a private letter to the governor, with whom he had formerly been on terms of friendly acquaintance. The summons was refused, and the place was taken by storm on the morning of the 11th, the loss on each side being small. Hughes provided for its defence as well as the means at his disposal permitted, and returned to Madras, where he anchored on 8 Feb. Here he was joined a few days later by three ships newly arrived from England, and having intelligence of the French being on the coast in superior force, he took up a defensive position under the batteries.

On the 16th the French squadron under M. de Suffren came in sight, but though superior in force in the ratio of twelve ships to nine of a smaller average strength, Suffren considered that the position of the English was unassailable, and made sail to the southward. He was immediately followed by Hughes, who during the night slipped past him, and on the morning of the 17th captured a number of the merchantmen in convoy and a transport laden with military stores. Suffren hastened to the rescue, while Hughes, having secured his prizes, prepared to defend them. But the fitful and gusty wind made his line very irregular, and about four o'clock in the afternoon the French, favoured by a passing squall, were able to attack his rear division, which, by the accidents of the weather, was separated from the van. Theoretically, the English rear was completely overpowered; but practically it held its own in a very severe struggle, centring round the Superb and Exeter [see King, Sir Richard, 1730-1806], till another gust permitted the four ships of the van to come to its relief. On this Suffren drew off to reform his line, and the fight was not renewed. During the night the fleets separated; both had sustained considerable damage; the French drew back to Pondicherry and Hughes went to Trincomalee to refit. He then returned to Madras, and was carrying back to Trincomalee a strong reinforcement for the garrison and a quantity of stores, when, on 9 April, as he was approaching his port, he again fell in with the French fleet. He had the advantage of the wind, but being anxious to land his cargo before engaging, and conceiving, probably, that the French with only a trifling superiority of force would not venture to attack him, he pursued his way, thus allowing the enemy to take the weather gage; so that on the 12th he found himself on a lee shore, with Suffren outside preparing to engage. This he did about two o'clock, in a manner contrary to all experience, and concentrating his attack on the English centre, placed it for a time in a position of great danger. The battle raged with exceptional severity round the Superb and Monmouth [see Alms, James], the latter of which was reduced to a wreck, and in both the loss of men was very great; on board the Superb there were fifty-nine killed and ninety-six wounded. About four o'clock Hughes made the signal to wear, and in reforming his line succeeded in placing the little Monmouth in comparative safety to leeward. The fight then continued on more equal terms till about half-past five, when, in a violent rain-squall, the fleets separated, and anchored for the night off the islet of Providien. The next day Hughes got his fleet into better order, but, lumbered up as his ships were, he refused to accept the battle which Suffren offered, and remained at anchor till the French withdrew. It was during this time that Suffren proposed an arrangement for the exchange of prisoners, which Hughes declined, alleging that he had not the requisite authority. As, however, the commander-in-chief on a distant station has necessarily a great deal of discretionary power, it is not improbable that he judged the exchange would be more to the advantage of the French, whose resources, at such a distance from their base at Mauritius, were very limited. Suffren seems to have regarded this as the real reason, and forthwith handed all his prisoners over to Hyder Ali.

Hughes had meantime refitted his fleet at Trincomalee, and by the end of June took up a position before Negapatnam, which he understood the French were preparing to attack by land and sea. He was still there when the French fleet came in sight on 5 July, and Suffren proposed to attack him at anchor. As he was standing in, however, one of his ships was partially dismasted in a squall, and in the delay that this occasioned, Hughes weighed, but would not be tempted to seaward lest he should give an opportunity to the French to get between him and the shore, and so land the troops which they had on board. The next morning, 6 July, on Suffren again standing in, Hughes, having the advantage of the wind, made the signal to engage van to van, line to line, in the manner prescribed by the ‘Fighting Instructions;’ he thus, notwith-standing his enemy's teaching, wasted his strength in a dispersed attack along the whole line, and the result was, as always,