The boats, headed by Lieutenant Stewart, approached about ten o’clock, and the people continued dropping into them from the ship for some time. Captain Todd and Mr. Bainbridge continued to the last to give orders for the safety of those who remained alive.
Lieutenant Duff gives the following account of the closing scene:—
’Lieutenant Stewart’s ardour in the cause of humanity was only equalled by his judgment in affording relief. When he reached the Queen Charlotte, he dropped his tartane under the bows, where almost all the remaining crew had taken refuge. Little more than an hour had elapsed, after this assistance was given, before the ship blew up. All that had been left unburnt immediately sunk down by the stern, but when the ponderous contents of the hold had been washed away, she for an instant recovered her buoyancy, and was suddenly seen to emerge almost her whole length from the deep, and then, turning over, she floated on the surface, with her burnished copper glistening in the sun.’
Such was the fate of the Queen Charlotte, which, excepting the Ville de Paris, was the largest ship in the British navy.
With the gallant vessel perished six hundred and seventy-three of her men and officers; amongst whom were Captain Todd and Lieutenant Bainbridge. These two officers, with heroic self-devotion, remained to share the fate of their ship, occupied to the last in endeavouring to save the lives of the men.
Before Captain Todd fell a victim to the flames, he had the presence of mind to write the particulars of the melancholy event, and to give copies of his account to several of the sailors, charging them to deliver it to the admiral if they should be so fortunate as to escape.
The following daring exploit is related of Lieutenant Bainbridge in James’s Naval History. We transcribe it as affording a striking example of the union of undaunted courage with endurance in the character of a British sailor.
“On the evening of the 21st of December, the British hired 10 gun cutter, Lady Nelson, while off Carbareta Point, was surrounded and engaged by two or three French privateers, and some gun vessels, in sight of the 100 gun ship, Queen Charlotte, and the 36 gun frigate Emerald, lying in Gibraltar Bay. Vice-Admiral Lord Keith, whose flag was flying on board the former ship, immediately ordered the boats of the two to row towards the combatants, in the hope that it might encourage the Lady Nelson to resist, until she could approach near enough to be covered by the guns of the ships. Before the boats could get up, however, the Lady Nelson had been captured, and was in tow by two of the privateers.
“Notwithstanding this, Lieutenant Bainbridge, in the Queen Charlotte’s barge, with sixteen men, ran alongside, and boarded with the greatest impetuosity; and after a sharp conflict, carried the Lady Nelson, taking as prisoners seven French officers and twenty-seven men.—six or seven others having been killed or knocked overboard in the scuffle. Lieutenant Bainbridge was severely wounded in the head by the stroke of a sabre, and slightly in other places.”