Operations against Ostend

14th May 1798 - 20th May 1798
Part of : The French Revolutionary Wars (1793 - 1802)
Previous action : Action of 1st May 1798 1.5.1798
Next action : Seahorse vs Sensible 27.5.1798


Great Britain

British Squadron, Home Riggs Popham (1762-1820)
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Minerve (38) George Cockburn (1772-1853)
Kite (18) William Brown (d.1798), Charles Lydiard (d.1807)
Harpy (16) Henry Bazely
Wolverine (14) Donald M'Dougall
Asp (12) Joseph Edmonds, Isaac Ferrieres
Biter (14) John Denis de Vitre
Hecla (10) James Oughton
Tartarus (10) Thomas Hand
Dart (8)  
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Acute (14) Jeremiah Seaver
Blazer (14) Daniel Burgess
Cracker (14) Thomas Atkinson (d.1799)
Furnace (12) Maurice William Suckling

Notes on Action


But all the encounters which resulted from the threatened invasion of England were not equally successful. In the spring of the year it became known to the British government that very many small craft were fitting at Flushing for the transport of troops, and were about to be conveyed, by way of the Bruges Canal, to Ostend and thence to Dunquerque. It was determined, if possible, to frustrate this plan by destroying the lock gates and sluices at Ostend, and so rendering the canal useless; and, for the purpose, the naval force was entrusted to Captain Home Riggs Popham; and a body of troops under Major General Sir Eyre Coote was embarked in the vessels composing it.

The expedition assembled off Margate, sailed for the opposite coast on May 14th, and anchored off Ostend at 1 A.M. on May 19th. Although the weather was most unfavourable, all the troops, with the exception of those on board the Minerve, which had parted company and had not yet rejoined, were at once landed to the north-east of the town without opposition. At about 4.15 A.M., the Ostend batteries, having been alarmed, opened fire upon the nearest British vessels, the Wolverine, Asp, and Biter, and, by about 8.30, had so severely damaged the two former, that Popham signalled to them to weigh and move further out. The Hecla and Tartarus had already begun to shell the town and harbour; and, upon the withdrawal of the Wolverine and Asp, the Dart, Kite, and Harpy took their places as nearly as the fact of its then being low tide would admit.

At 9.30 A.M. the Minerve rejoined; and her Commander went ashore by Popham's order to report her arrival to the general. Lieut.-Colonel Ward, with part of the First Regiment of Guards, would also have hastened on shore from the Minerve, had he not been stopped and dissuaded while on his way by the prudent counsels of Captain James Bradby, of the Ariadne.

The lock gates and sluices, together with several gunboats, are said to have been destroyed by the troops at 10.20 A.M.; but at noon, when it was sought to re-embark, the weather was found to render the attempt perfectly hopeless. The British had, in consequence, to remain; and, being attacked on the 20th by the French in force, they were obliged, after they had lost 65 killed and wounded, to capitulate. Among those who surrendered was Commander Mackellar, of the Minerve. It is doubtful whether the objects to be attained justified the risks involved in this unfortunate expedition; it is still more doubtful whether those objects were attained, for the French deny the fact; and it is certain that, whether the objects were attained or not, the troops ought never to have been landed at a time when every indication went to show that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to re-embark them until after the lapse of some days.

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