Often the truth of combat during the Age of Sail is at least as strange as the fiction set during that era. Sometimes the participants went on to fame. More often their fate is cloaked in obscurity. I plan on writing on more of these happenings in the future but for the first installment I’ll take the case of Midshipman Matthew Flinders of HMS Bellerophon during the Battle of Ushant, also known as The Glorious First of June fought on 1 June 1784.
From The Naval Chronicle: The Contemporary Record of the Royal Navy at War by Nicholas Tracy.
[At the Glorious First of June], when Lord Howe broke the French line on that decisive day, the second ship from the Queen Charlotte was the Bellerophon; her guns would bear on three of the enemy’s ships, and some of those on the quarter-deck having been left leaded and primed by her men while called off to trimming sails, &c. Mr. Flinders, having at that time no other by the general order to fire away as fast as possible, seized a lighted match, and at the instant his ship was passing under the stern of a French three-decker, fired in succession as many of the deserted guns as would bear, right into her. Commodore Pasley having observed his actions, shook the young hero violently by the collar, and sternly said, “How dare you do this, youngster, without my orders?” Mr. Flinders innocently replied, “he did not know, but he thought it a fine chance to have a good shot at ‘em.”
The battle won by Richard Howe, 1st Earl of Howe was itself indecisive but began the process of establishing British psychological domination of their Continental enemies. Commodore Pasley who shook young Midshipman Flinders by the collar was actually Thomas Pasley who lost a leg on that day and was later promoted to rear admiral and created 1st Baronet Pasley.