The Royal Navy and the ‘45

Action between HMS Lion and Elizabeth and the Du Teillay, 9 July 1745. The painting shows the third phase of the action at about 20.00. On the left of the picture the `Lion’ is in close action with the `Elizabeth’ shown in the centre. The `Lion’s’ mizzen top and topmast is shot away and hangs over the side. On the right the `Du Teillay’ is firing at the `Lion’ who is retaliating with her guns at the stern. Painted many years after the event, the artist may have referred to three related drawings by Captain Piercy Brett, for this work.

Defeat at Fontenoy in May 1745 and the outbreak of the Jacobite rebellion in July ended any hope of securing a good peace in the foreseeable future. During the rebellion, the navy performed vital duties in patrolling the Channel and supporting the advance of Cumberland’s army up to Aberdeen and on to Culloden, but the overall impression was of the fleet failing to live up to the grand hopes of 1739.

Charles borrowed 40,000 livres from Parisian banker George Walters (who later extended Charles’ credit to 120,000) to purchase broadswords.  The commander of the Irish Brigade of the French Army, Lord Clare, introduced Charles to Irish shipowners who agreed to help him get to Scotland with money, volunteers and arms. Sir Walter Ruttlidge gave Charles the captured 64-gun British warship Elisabeth, which had on board 700 volunteers from the Irish Brigade, 1,500 muskets and 1,800 broadswords. Charles’ ship was to be the 16-gun privateer Doutelle, which also had on board muskets, swords and 4,000 louis d’or.  Charles was accompanied by the “Seven Men of Moidart” on his voyage to Scotland: the banker Aeneas Macdonald; Francis Strickland, an Englishman and former tutor to Charles’ brother Henry; and four Irishmen: Sir Thomas Sheridan; Reverend George Kelly; Sir John Macdonald; and John William O’Sullivan.

The Doutelle disembarked from Nantes on 22 June 1745, meeting the Elisabeth at Brittany on 4 July and then sailing together for Scotland. On 9 July the British 64-gun warship HMS Lion attacked the two ships 100-miles off Lizard Point, Cornwall, with the Elisabeth nearly sunk and returning to France. The British officers of the Lion believed that the French ships were bound for North America so did not inform the government.

The Lion is described as 58 guns with a crew of 400. The Du Teillay at the time was carrying Charles Edward Stuart to Scotland with supplies and funds to support his cause. Prince Charles had boarded the French ship on 7 July at Saint-Nazaire bound for Ardmolich, they were joined by a French escort ship the `Elizabeth’ (L’Elisabeth). Two days later they were intercepted by the `Lion’, commanded by Captain Piercy Brett. A close action began at 17.00 between the `Lion’ and `Elizabeth’, with the `Du Teillay’ attacking the `Lion’ several times and, at 18.00, the `Lion’s’ mizzen topmast came down. By 20.00, The `Lion’ with her mizzen top and topmast shot away and hanging over the side was still in close action with the `Elizabeth’. The `Du Teillay’ shielded by the Elizabeth continued firing at the `Lion’ who returned fire with her stern guns. The `Lion’ continued firing at the `Elizabeth’ until the latter broke free at 22.00 to join the `Du Teillay’; by this time the `Lion’ was too damaged to follow (she had also taken extensive damage to the hull); with 45 of her men dead and about 107 wounded. The `Elizabeth’ had lost about 57 men with 175 wounded, her commander, Captain Dau, among the dead.

Despite being outgunned, HMS Lion was a nimbler craft and Dutillet had watched at a safe distance as the two warships knocked great chunks from one another. Both HMS Lion and Elisabeth were so severely damaged that they were forced to limp home for repair – the British ship to Plymouth and its sparring partner to Brest. Elisabeth was listing so dangerously close to the water that before it departed, they were unable to bring Dutillet alongside to transfer its cargo of 1,500 muskets, 1,800 swords, and half of the Irish Brigade. The already poor odds had turned even further against them, but for the Young Pretender here could be no turning back.

On 2 August 1745, the Du Teillay landed Charles Stuart at Eriskay, and then onto Loch nan Uamh, Scotland, before returning to France.

Captain Brett who was wounded in the battle was obliged to have the Captain of the Marines arrested for skulking on the poop under cover some bags, setting such a bad example that it encouraged most of his men to do likewise. Dominic Serres painted a version of the event in 1860, from three drawings done at the time by Peircy Brett.

The Doutelle sailed on and Charles landed on the isle of Eriskay on 23 July.

The British government was unsure of Charles’ planned landing. On 5 June Norman MacLeod of Skye wrote to the Scottish Lord President, Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden, to ignore the “extraordinary tale” of Charles coming to the Highlands. On 15 July he wrote again to say that “as I’ve heard nothing further from any of these places, but peace and quiet, I think you may entirely depend on it, that either there never was such a thing intended, or if there was, that the project is entirely defeated and blown into the air”. Aware of rumours of a Jacobite rising, Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, a son of George II and involved in fighting on the Continent, wrote to the Duke of Newcastle on 28 July:

    I desire you, that if this pretended design of an invasion should continue, to let me come home with whatever troops are thought necessary, for it would be horrid to be employed abroad when my home was in danger, and really, should it be found proper to detach home to England troops sufficient to secure it, there will be none left to save this little scrap of country we still have here, of the Austrian Netherlands.

Newcastle advised Cumberland to request from George II the home command. However George discounted the Jacobite threat and wanted Cumberland to remain in Flanders and leave the home defence to the 6,000 Dutch soldiers due to Britain from treaty.

Charles spent the night on Eriskay and returned to the Doutelle the next morning. Alexander MacDonald of Boisdale, younger brother of the chief MacDonald of Clanranald, came to visit him. Boisdale was a Jacobite but believed the planned rising had no chance of succeeding and told Charles to return home. Charles replied: “I am come home, sir, and can entertain no notion of returning to the place whence I came. I am persuaded that my faithful Highlanders will stand by me”.