Copyright 2011 Richard S. Philbrick
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Action Between the Thisbe and a French Frigate
The Royal Navy frigate HMS Thisbe, in company with the frigate Venus, was pursuing a pair of French frigates in the English Channel. England was once again at war with the French and the Thisbe had a solid reputation in the many battles she’d fought against her adversaries. She’d been patrolling Channel waters for several weeks and had captured three enemy merchantmen without firing a shot and sent them as prizes into Plymouth. The more pugnacious of the crew grumbled at not having encountered an enemy worthy of their prowess, and whose capture would have afforded them a larger amount of prize-money than they’d receive from the merchant ships. Now, though, it seemed they might get their chance, and everyone on the Thisbe anticipated an impending battle.
William (Henry) Rayner, recently raised from the foc’sle where he’d been a simple powder monkey to the position of midshipman after displaying exceptional bravery and twice saving the life of the Thisbe’s first lieutenant, Mr. Saltwell, was in charge of a lookout party in the middle watch, from midnight until four in the morning. They were standing in the bows and he made sure no one in the group nodded off. Several times he thought that he saw two dark objects rising above the horizon ahead, but his imagination might have been playing tricks on him, as they never grew larger.