November 1758: Thomas Saumarez captures the Belliqueux

Captain Thomas Saumarez, RN, uncle of Admiral James Saumarez, had a surprisingly easy time when taking possession of the French ship Belliqueux. As a reward he was made commander of the ship and took her on a campaign to the West Indies, but was forced to retire through ill-health. From Sir John Ross' Memoirs and correspondence of Admiral Lord de Saumarez, 1838.

In the month of November 1758, Captain Saumarez was stationed in the Bristol Channel for the protection of the trade, and, the wind blowing strong from the westward, had anchored his ship, the Antelope, of fifty guns and three hundred and fifty men, in King Road; and there being little probability of the appearance of an enemy under such circumstances, he had repaired to Bristol to partake of the hospitality of his friends in that prosperous city. While sitting at dinner, an express came from Barnstaple to inform him that a large ship, supposed to be an enemy, had anchored under Lundy Island.

Captain Saumarez immediately repaired on board his ship, weighed anchor, and, notwithstanding the contrary wind and fresh gale, he beat down the channel, and in the morning saw her at anchor off Ilfracombe. On discovering the Antelope, the enemy weighed and stood towards her, and, on coming near, hoisted French colours and seemed prepared to engage. As soon as the Antelope came within gun-shot, she opened her fire, when the Frenchman immediately hauled down his colours without returning a shot. Captain Saumarez now sent his boat with the first lieutenant to know if she had surrendered; but finding that the boat did not return, he bore down under her stern, and asked if they had struck. The answer was in the affirmative, and she was immediately taken possession of. She proved to be the Belliqueux, of sixty-four guns and five hundred men.

When the captain came on board the Antelope, and found that he had surrendered to a ship so much inferior in force, both in men and weight of metal, his chagrin and mortification knew no bounds. He exclaimed that he had been deceived, and actually proposed to Captain Saumarez that he should allow him to return to his ship, and that he would fight him fairly; to which the English captain replied that he must keep possession now; that he had obtained it, but he had no objection to his going back to France and getting another ship of the same kind to try the fortune of war. He conducted his prize back to King Road, and returned to Bristol with his French guest to enjoy the hospitality and hearty welcome of his friends, after an absence of only eighteen hours!

See his biography in De Sausmarez, Sir H., 'Philip Saumarez &c.' in Report and Trans Soc. Guernesiaise, XII (1936) p. 470-2; his is portrait D. 'This action was remarkable because the French Captain did not know he was in the Bristol Channel and thought De Saumarez acted unfairly in attacking him out of his latitude,' A Saga of Guernsey, p. 23 [Channel Island Articles 20 D.].