1797 Capture of Trinidad
Notes on Action
Description taken from William Laird Clowe, "The Royal Navy" Vol. IV
The most important colonial expedition of the year 1797 was the one which led to the capture of Trinidad. On the Leeward Islands' station Rear-Admiral Henry Harvey 1 commanded, and, in pursuance of instructions, he quitted Port Royal, Martinique, on February 12th, with a squadron, on board of which was a body of troops under Lieut. General Sir Ralph Abercromby. At a rendezvous off Carriacou, on the 14th, he picked up reinforcements, and, on the 16th, made Trinidad, and steered for the Gulf of Paria by way of Boca Grande. At 3.30 P.M., just as the British had cleared the channel, they discovered at anchor, in Shagaramus bay within, a Spanish squadron of four sail of the line and a frigate. 2
As the entrance to the enemy's anchorage appeared to be well protected by a battery of twenty guns and two mortars posted upon the island of Gaspargrande, and as the day was already far advanced, Harvey sent his transports, protected by the Arethusa, Thorn, and Zebra, to find a berth about five miles from Port of Spain, and ordered the Alarm, Victorieuse and Victorieuse to keep under sail between the enemy and Port of Spain, while, with his ships of the line, he anchored within long gunshot of the Spanish ships and batteries, with the intention of preventing the foe from escaping during the night, and of taking measures in the morning for his destruction.
But, to the surprise of the British, the Spaniards, at about 2 A.M. on the 17th, began to set fire to their ships, and, ere daylight, four out of the five were practically destroyed. The fifth, the San Damaso (74) escaped the flames, and was brought off without resistance by the boats of the squadron, the Spaniards having evacuated Gaspargrande island. This was occupied in the early morning by part of the Queen's Regiment, and, in the course of the day, other troops were landed, without interruption, three miles from Port of Spain, which was quietly entered that evening. On the following day the island of Trinidad peacefully capitulated. The Spaniards, it afterwards appeared, had burnt their ships because they had barely half enough officers and men wherewith to man them.
From Trinidad Harvey proceeded to the attack of Puerto Rico, for which island he sailed on April 8th, having been joined by the Alfred (74), Tamer (38) and a few smaller craft.
He anchored off Cangrejos point on the 17th, and, on the following day, disembarked some troops with but slight opposition; but San Juan, upon being reconnoitred, was found to be strongly fortified, and to be well provided with floating defences; and, after it had been bombarded without effect, Abercromby, on the 30th, abandoned the enterprise and re-embarked the troops, of whom he had lost during the operations 31 killed, 70 wounded, and 124 prisoners or missing. During the rest of the year, the squadron on the Leeward Islands' station confined its efforts to capturing the enemy's cruisers and protecting British trade. (b41)
William Robinson (s4) He does not give a ship list, but asserts that Alfred (74) & Dictator (64) arrived the day of the capitulation, february 18th, as reinforcements. The Zephyr, was detached from the fleet chasing a french privateer. The Bittern was sent to Barbados for dispatches. And that the Pelican in fact, never joinned the fleet due to stress of weather.