Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Battle of Trafalgar: The Logbook of the Euryalus, 20th October 1805

I recently had the opportunity to view the logbook of Frederick Ruckert, Master of the Euryalus, which is held in the Lloyds Collection in London.  So I decided that for this year's Trafalgar tribute posts, I would post the entries from the log that cover the Battle of Trafalgar. 

The Euryalus was a 36-gun frigate commanded by Captain Henry Blackwood.  Nelson had his small frigate squadron stationed outside Cadiz to keep an eye on the combined French and Spanish fleet sheltering within, and they used a chain of signals to keep in constant communication with him so he could keep the bulk of his fleet out of sight of the enemy.  So as soon as the enemy began to move to sea, Nelson knew about it.  Nelson had missed the French more than once during his career because a lack of frigates, which he called his 'eyes'.  But this time, they would not be able to escape him.

Frigates were too small to take part in major fleet actions against ships with 74 guns or more, but they played a role in boarding surrendered ships, towing disabled ships out of action and, crucially, passing along signals.  As such, the Euryalus observed much of the battle and so her logbook reads as an interesting first-hand overview of it.  

Captain Henry Blackwood of the Euryalus

The Log of the Euryalus: Sunday, 20th October 1805

A.M. - Saw another blue light to windward.  At 1.30 sprang up a breeze from the SW.  Tacked and made sail to the NW.  At 4. tacked in 30 fathoms; two ships in sight to windward.  Sirius in company.  At daylight observed nine of the enemies' ships, under sail off Cadiz Harbour, and 4 at anchor, Naiad in sight south, Sirius in company.  Fresh breezes and cloudy.  Observed the enemy's ships in the harbour getting under way.  22 of the English fleet in sight from the mast head.  At 7.30, a strange sail NW.  The Sirius made sail in chase.  At 7.50, saw the Sirius boarding a chase which proved to be an American ship.  At 8.20, perceived a line-of-battle ship with a brig in tow steering with all sail direct for the enemy within a very near distance.  Made the private signal to her and proved to be H.M.S. Agamemnon.  Made the signal to the Agamemnon for the enemy NE.  Repeated it with many guns before it was noticed.  She then hauled to the wind on the starboard tack, having a heavy brig in tow which she did not cast off.  At 8.35, the Sirius got her boat back from the American ship and she made all sail on the larboard tack.  Saw the van ship of the enemy endeavouring to get up with the Sirius, and a line-of-battle ship firing at her, then bearing from us NE by E, 2 or 3 miles.  At 8.50, thirty-four ships of the enemy in sight.  At 9, St. Sebastian E 1/2 S, about 4 leagues.  At 9.10, pointed out by signal the bearings of the Commander-in-Chief to the Agamemnon, and made telegraph signals to her that thirty-four of the enemy were out, and to make all sail and repeat signals between me and the Admiral, and that the enemy's ships were much scattered, and directed Sir Edward Berry to fire every 10 minutes with the preceding signal; but she still stood on SE with the brig in tow until we lost sight of her.  At 9.30, strong breezes.  In 2nd reef of the topsails.  At 9.45, observed a number of the enemy's ships wearing and standing towards Cadiz.  At 10, strong breezes and thick weather with rain.  Lost sight of the enemy's ships.  At 11, up mainsail, down jib.  At noon the wind more moderate, but very heavy rain and thick weather.

P.M. - Heavy rain and thick weather.  At 12.30, the weather clearing up a little, saw the enemy to leeward under low sail on the larboard tack; being close wore ship, reefed topsails and made all possible sail to look out for the English fleet in the SSW.  Still keeping sight of the enemy.  At 1, more moderate; out reefs, set topgallant sails.  Saw the Sirius to leeward of us and recalled her.  At 2, saw the English fleet in the SSW, standing to the westward.  At 2.10, made a telegraph message to the Sirius, 'I am going to the Admiral, but will return before night.'  At 3, exchanged ship's numbers with the fleet.  At 3.20, made the telegraph message, 'The enemy seems determined to push to the westward, with numeral pendant 30 N by E,' which the Admiral answered.  Saw an English line-of-battle ship to leeward of the fleet with her main topmast down.  At 4, wore ship and stood to the northward.  At 4.40, the English fleet wore.  Enemy's fleet on the larboard tack to the northward.  Up mainsail, crossed the royal yards.  At 5.20, observed some of the enemy's look-out ships reconnoitring us; tacked ship.  At 5.40, answered the Admiral's signal, 'I rely on your keeping sight of the enemy.'  At 6, ditto weather.  Victory and fleet to the southward.  Enemy's fleet and Sirius N by E.  Made several lights and burnt false fires to show the enemy's position to Lord Nelson and the fleet.  At 8.30, wore ship.  At 9.50, wore ship.  Up mainsail and kept upon the enemy's weather beam, about 2 or 3 miles.  Made and shortened sail occasionally.  Fired guns and burned false fires as necessary.  At 12, moderate breezes.  The body of the enemy's fleet SE by S about 3 miles, and the light of the English fleet to the southward and westward 5 or 6 miles.

 More to come..


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