[NAPOLEONIC WARS - MEDITERRANEAN CAMPAIGN 1798]. Fine Original Watercolour Drawing of a Naval Skirmish of the Mediterranean Campaign. 26 Prairial, An 6 [14th June, 1798]. [ca 1804-1805].
Single sheet (image size 16 2/8 x 23 2/8 inches). Original watercolour drawing, unsigned, but dedicated to "Consul Le Brun" [ie Charles-François Lebrun, duc de Plaisance, (1739-1824)], showing the French corvette 'La Badine' escaping the attack of three English ships off the coast of Sardinia, and captioned with an account of the engagement.
A fine and detailed watercolour drawing dramatically showing the French Corvette 'La Badine' under the command of Morel Beaulieu escaping the attack of the British frigates HMS 'Emerald' under Captain Thomas Moutray Waller, HMS 'Alcmene' under Captain George Johnstone Hope, and HMS 'Bonne Citoyenne' under Captain Robert Retalick. After a fierce and heated battle that lasted three hours and ten minutes the French corvette escaped the British frigates by outmaneuvering them and from the shelter of the fort at Cape Poule was able to bombard the enemy ships even though it was outgunned. According to the caption the British eventually gave up and left.
Dedicated to Consul Charles-Francois Le Brun, who was made Third Consul following Bonaparte's 18 Brumaire coup in the Year VIII (9-10 November 1799). From 1805 to 1806 he was governor-general of Liguria, during which time he completed its annexation by France, and this watercolour was probably presented to him at this time, because the skirmish commemorated occurred close to his jurisdiction.
Following Napoleon Bonaparte's victories over the Austrian Empire in Northern Italy-helping to secure French victory in the War of the First Coalition in 1797-Great Britain remained the only major European power still at war with the French Republic. However, the French Navy was dominant in the Mediterranean Sea, following the withdrawal of the British fleet after the outbreak of war between Britain and Spain in 1796. So Napoleon Bonaparte audaciously proposed an invasion of Egypt as an alternative to confronting Britain directly, believing that the British would be too distracted by an imminent Irish uprising to intervene in the Mediterranean. Also Great Britain's route to its colonies in India, and the source of their wealth, and so much of their power, would be barred. The French Directory agreed, partly to give Napoleon something to do somewhere else, and gathered together an Egypt expeditionary force, the Escadre d'Orient (fleet of the Orient) and the l'Armee d'Orient (army of the Orient). Bonaparte's armada sailed from Toulon on 19 May 1798, making rapid progress through the Ligurian Sea and collecting more ships at Genoa before sailing southwards along the Sardinian coast, passing Sicily on 7 June 1798.
While Bonaparte was sailing to Malta, the Royal Navy re-entered the Mediterranean for the first time in over a year. Alarmed by reports of French preparations on the Mediterranean coast, Lord Spencer at the Admiralty sent a message to Vice-Admiral Earl St. Vincent, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet based in the Tagus River, to dispatch a squadron to investigate. This squadron, consisting of three ships of the line and three frigates, was entrusted to Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, who after loosing an eye and an arm in battle had only returned to the fleet at the Tagus in late April 1798. He was ordered to collect the squadron stationed at Gibraltar and then he too set sail for the Ligurian Sea.
On 21 May 1798, as Nelson's squadron approached Toulon, it was struck by a fierce gale and Nelson's flagship HMS 'Vanguard' lost its topmasts and was almost wrecked on the Corsican coast. The remainder of the squadron was scattered; the ships of the line sheltered at San Pietro Island off Sardinia, while the frigates were blown to the west and failed to return. Scattered across the Western Mediterranean the frigates were unable to locate either the British or the French fleets.
Three of these were the frigates HMS 'Emerald' and HMS 'Terpsichore' under Captains Thomas Moutray Waller and William Hall Gage and the sloop HMS 'Bonne Citoyenne' under Captain Robert Retalick. Thomas Waller on 'Emerald' was divided from the other frigates, and his lookouts had observed 'Vanguard' in its dismasted state at the height of the storm. The other two frigates had reefed their sails and ridden out the storm together, Captain Gage turning towards the Spanish coast when the storm abated and on 29 May encountered HMS 'Alcmene' under Captain George Johnstone Hope, which had been sent by St. Vincent to augment Nelson's force. Two days later Hope's squadron encountered 'Emerald', which had captured two merchant ships, and together they sailed for the prearranged rendezvous point 60 miles off Cape St. Sebastian near Barcelona. Hope ordered 'Terpsichore' and 'Bonne Citoyenne' to cruise off Sardinia and on 3 June encountered the brig HMS 'Mutine' under Captain Thomas Hardy, the scout of a fleet sent by Earl St. Vincent that was approaching the rendezvous. Knowing of the damaged suffered by 'Vanguard' and aware that the French had left Toulon, Hope then took the unilateral decision to search for the French himself, dispersing the frigates across the Western Mediterranean.
As official British accounts of the Mediterranean Campaign are all quite clear that HMS 'Emerald', HMS 'Alcmene' and HMS 'Bonne Citoyenne' encountered no further British or French ships before the 12th of August when they arrived off Alexandria after the Battle of the Nile (mistaken for French warships and chased away by Swiftsure, only returning the following day once the error had been realised) we are left to conclude that either they did not report their failed skirmish with 'La Badine', or that it never happened....