36. Markham to Keith
November 3, 1803.
(Endorsed October 14).
My dear Lord, Before you receive this, the official letters will explain the Gelykheid and Repulse; the latter is detained in the river with strong easterly winds. I wish that she had got down, as some people high in situation have taken it into their heads that if our fleet should be blown to the westward by strong easterly winds the French might slip out of Brest and run up-Channel. This you know cannot be until the wind shifts and Cornwallis would very soon be after them; but at any rate they would be long before they got up to you. When the Spanish Armada came up-Channel they anchored off Calais and our fireships were sent among them, the Duke of Parma was there with a large army to cross over under cover of this fleet. I do not myself see any possibility of such a thing being now effected, more especially as, if they did get out from Brest, our squadron at Cawsand Bay and the ships which might be turned out from Spithead would be able to manage anything they can send from thence, at most eight sail now, even if the inshore squadron did not stop them. I mention this only as an idea that may be broached to you and therefore be well prepared upon it to give an answer. They cannot come out with the wind to the southward of S.E., and therefore not what they want to fetch as high as you. In such an event, however, I suppose all the two-decked blockships might be brought into the line and their numbers be completed by the Fencibles, on which account, as well as their acting in case of a flotilla approaching, it will be well to make their captains understand clearly that they are always to be prepared to get under way, and indeed if one could trust them keeping their anchors clear they would he much better at (sic), but this I fear will not do. I believe a good deal of improper visiting goes on with the shore from these ships, or we should not have had that account in the newspapers of the boat being dragged over a sand at ten o’clock at night. I wish the timber (?) ships would find shelter, but I do not know how that may be. These ships should be always ready to go to sea, as it is too late to organise a flotilla in the river, besides fireships would be easily brought to act against them in narrows, more especially if obliged to anchor. Anything more about the Whitstable boat? This is a dark business.* Ever yours,
* Markham was a member of the Board. Keith’s reply is printed in Letters of Admiral Markham. N.R.S., p. 112. He agrees that it is unlikely that the French will come up-Channel, but ‘the times are different since the days of Elizabeth: our enemy is more active; there is a telegraph from Brest to the Texel ; the fleet quitting port might be announced along shore in five hours.’ The Whitstable boat was manned by a crew who pretended they were under Admiralty orders.
LLoyd, C . (eds.) (1955) The Keith Papers, vol III, 1803-1815. Navy Records Society, pp. 45-46
Web Page: Rickard, J (24 July 2006), Keith to Secretary of Admiralty, http://www.historyofwar.org/source/acw/napoleonic/nrs1955/1_1_036.html
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