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This small but amusing anecdote of Sir Edward Pellew, is recorded in A Mariner of England an account of the career of William Richardson from cabin boy in the merchant service to warrant officer in the Royal Navy (1780 – 1819 ) as told by himself. Richardson was serving aboard HMS Minerva, Captain John Whitby when the ship encountered Sir John Borlase Warren’s Western Squadron just prior to their engagement with the French frigate squadron composed of PomoneEngageant, Babet and Concord.  The anecdote may be brief but it is very characteristic of Pellew at this stage of his career, from the momentary loss of his infamous temper, to his urgent desire to be off in pursuit of the enemy.

In proceeding up Channel we were chased a whole day by a line of battle ship which in the dusk, we were all ready to fight her, as our admiral hoped to succeed by manoeuvring, though she was of such superior force. They hailed to know from whence we came, and our reply was “His Britannic Majesty’s ship Minerva”, they then asked if it was not the Minerva out of Havre de Grace and were very suspicious of us; we answered that it was HM Ship Minerva, Rear Admiral Cornwallis, from India , and this satisfied them and their captain came on board to pay his respects and we found her to be the Intrepid (64 guns). One of their boat’s crew, an Irishman, when alongside, was hardly satisfied that we were English, for, said he, what right had we to a poop, being only a frigate? One of our wags told him it was to keep our prize – money in, and Pat believed him!

Next morning we saw four frigates ahead standing across our bows, little thinking they were enemies, fortunately a fog came on and we passed them. Next morning we saw four more, who would not let us escape. The first that came up was the Arethusa, Sir Edward Pellew (since Lord Exmouth) who, seeing our flag, brought to and came aboard, and told us the other three frigates were the Flora, Concord and Melampus, all under the command of Sir John Borlase Warren.  When he was told we had passed four English frigates yesterday (he very nearly committed himself for swearing), he said, with an oath, that there were not four British frigates together in the channel but themselves, therefore the others must be French. So hastening to his ship he gave us a salute, then bore down on his Commodore, gave him news and off they all set in search of the other four frigates and the next day, being 23 April, 1794, they overtook them. A smart action ensued, and ended with the capture of the Pomone (44 guns) the Engageant, (56 guns) and the Babet (28 guns); the other escaped, having run on shore on the French coast having been chased by the Concord, Sir Richard Strachan.

HMS Concorde and Engageante, by John Fairburn (Collections of the National Maritime Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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