But the crisis was fast approaching when human skill and human fortitude could be of no avail. In defiance of all their exertions and precautions, the devouring element pursued its course. Every moment it was gaining aft; and had not officers and men been true to themselves and to each other, they must all have perished. The mizenmast was on fire in the captain’s cabin, and the flames were bursting from all the lee-ports. It was now a quarter past five o’clock, and they were entering the Bay of Rosas. Could they venture to hold on their way, and still remain in the ship? A moment’s glance around him sufficed for Captain Le Gros to decide the question. The now triumphant element was no longer smouldering and creeping stealthily onwards amidst smoke and darkness, but with a lurid glare, and a sullen roar, the flames rolled on. The word was given to launch the raft; it was obeyed, and in a few minutes more the vessel struck, about a mile from the beach, between the Fort of Ampurius and the Church of St. Pierre. She was now on fire both fore and aft. Self-preservation is the law of nature, it is said; but there is a stronger law governing the actions of the British seaman. Officers and men were of one mind. They all united in putting first the women and children, then the sick and the foreigners, into the launch. The two yawls and the jolly-boat took as many as they could carry from the stern, and put them on board some Spanish boats from La Escada, which had been sent to their assistance, but which neither threats nor entreaties could avail to bring near to the ship.
The remainder of the people were then ordered on to the raft, and by the time it was covered, the flames came aft so thick, that it was necessary to send it off from the stern. All now had left the ill-fated vessel, except the gallant Captain Le Gros, Lieutenant Tailour, and the master. When they saw all the rest clear away, and not till then, did they descend by the stern ladders into one of the yauls and pulled towards the shore, which they had scarcely reached when she blew up.
The value of this ship was estimated at 100,000_l._, and the loss to Lord Nelson must have been incalculable. Yet it is said that he was much more distressed by the loss of the despatches, which were taken by the enemy, about the same time, in the Swift cutter.
In a letter to Lord St. Vincent, dated the 19th of April, Admiral Nelson says, speaking of Captain Le Gros.—“If his account be correct (he was then upon his trial), he had great merit for the order in which the ship was kept. The fire must have originated from medicine chests breaking, or from wet getting down, which caused the things to heat. The preservation of the crew seems little short of a miracle. I never read such a journal of exertions in my whole life."
The captain, officers, and ship’s company were most honourably acquitted by the sentence of court-martial.