The Glorious First of June, 1794, was a British naval victory over France

Posted in America, Birds, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Legend, Ships, War on Thursday, 19 April 2012

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This edited article about Earl Howe originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 691 published on 12 April 1975.

Glorious 1st of June, picture, image, illustration

The Glorious First of June, when Britain was urged on to victory by a cockerel, by Eric Parker

When war broke out between Britain and France, both countries had suffered bad harvests. This was a misfortune for Britain, but an even worse one for France, who was now eager to show her might and induce other European countries to join her in her revolutionary mood.

To solve the problem, the French Revolutionary Government bought grain from America and commissioned over a hundred ships to carry it across the Atlantic. The precious convoy, with a small escort of four French battleships, left American shores on April 11, 1794, with the intention of joining the main French battle fleet four hundred miles from the French coast, and so insuring against attack on the last lap of the journey.

The task of intercepting the convoy fell to Admiral Earl Howe. When he left with his battle fleet in the late spring of 1794, the French fleet was still hiding in an inner harbour at Brest. Not wishing to prevent the French from sailing, because he was eager to engage them in battle, Earl Howe turned away and began his search for the grain convoy. Meeting with no success, he returned to Brest, only to find that the French Fleet had sneaked away in his absence and was on its way to rendezvous with the convoy.

The British Admiral, stung by his lack of success, sailed in search of the convoy – and the French Battle Fleet too!

At last, on the morning of May 28, 1794, the French were sighted and a preliminary engagement took place, but this had to be broken off because of fog! Minor engagements took place during the next three days as both fleets tried to out-manoeuvre one another and then, on June 1 – the Glorious First of June – the main action took place.

It was during this fierce and memorable battle that one ship, H.M.S. Marlborough, was to be saved by the crowing of a cock.

It was the custom in those days to carry livestock, such as pigs, chickens and goats, in pens on the upper deck of a ship. These animals were used to supplement the monotonous and meagre diet of the ship’s crew, or at least the ship’s officers. In the course of the action H.M.S. Marlborough was damaged so severely that she was dismasted and disabled. Her Captain and First Lieutenant were badly wounded. The remaining officers considered their plight so helpless that their thoughts turned to surrender.

Then an event, trifling in itself, suddenly swung the desperate situation into their favour. A cock, freed from a broken coop, suddenly perched itself on the broken stump of the mainmast, flapped its wings and crowed loud and clear above the din of the battle.

On seeing the cock and hearing its clarion call, the disheartened crew responded with equally loud and defiant cheers and made renewed efforts to defend the ship. From this point the tide of battle turned in favour of the British and, while the disabled Marlborough was towed to safety, the rest of the fleet turned what had looked at one time like a disaster into a resounding victory.

What happened to the cock?

His fate was most certainly not the roasting spit. Instead, he spent the rest of his life as a pensioner in an aristocratic household, an honourable and most fitting reward for such a notable rooster.

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