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A Midshipman’s Account of The Glorious First of June, 1794

Posted by M. Duffy, on May 30th, 2014


These two documents – a private letter and an unfinished summary of events – were written by Midshipman William Burgh, of the Queen Charlotte. They detail fleet actions both leading up to, and during, the ‘Glorious First of June’ – a fleet action between the Royal Navy and the French Republic on 1 June 1794, during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802).

After a month of campaigning around the Bay of Biscay, during which both sides skirmished and captured each other’s merchant shipping, the two fleets finally came to full-scale action when the British attempted to interdict a vital grain convoy from the United States. Both sides claimed victory in the resulting engagement, although for both that victory proved Pyrrhic, with each fleet left spent. The grain convoy succeeded in passing through, but the French fleet was forced to return to port, where it was subsequently blockaded for the duration of the war.

Burgh’s private correspondence to his sister details the back-and-forth nature of the prior month’s engagements, before forming an account of the battle itself and Admiral Lord Howe’s unconventional tactics. The midshipman’s unfinished summary offers greater insight into the specific vessels involved, and gives precise record of events up until 28 May.

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