“You’ve no need to tell me you’ve succeeded, Burke,” he said when Desmond presented himself. “I see it in your eyes. But I’ve no time to hear your story now. It must wait until we have seen the result of the day’s fighting. Not that I expect much of it in this quarter. We can’t take the place with the land force only, and I won’t throw away life till the admiral has tried the effect of his guns.”
The French in Chandernagore were not well prepared to stand a determined siege. The governor, Monsieur Renault, had none of the military genius of a Dupleix or a Bussy. With him were only some eight hundred fighting men, of whom perhaps half were Europeans. Instead of concentrating his defense on the fort, he scattered his men about the town, leaving the weakest part of his defenses, the eastern curtain, insufficiently manned.
He believed that Admiral Watson would find it impossible to bring his biggest ships within gunshot, and fancied that by sinking some vessels at the narrowest part of the river he would keep the whole British fleet unemployed—a mistake that was to cost him dear.
By the night of March fourteenth Clive had driven in the outposts. The immediate effect of this was the desertion of two thousand Moors sent to Renault’s assistance by Nandkumar the faujdar of Hugli. A continuous bombardment was kept up until the nineteenth, when Admiral Watson arrived from Calcutta with the Kent, the Tyger, and the Salisbury.
Next morning an officer was despatched in a boat to summon Renault once more to surrender. Rowing between the sunken vessels, whose masts showed above water, he took soundings and found that with careful handling the men-o’-war might safely pass. Once more Renault refused to surrender. His offer to ransom the fort was declined by the admiral, who the same night sent the master of the Kent to buoy the channel. Two nights later, in pitch darkness, several English boats were rowed with muffled oars to the sunken vessels. Their crews fixed lanterns to the masts of these in such a way that the light, while guiding the warships, would be invisible from the fort.
Early next morning Clive captured the battery commanding the river passage, and the three British ships ran up with the tide. The Kent and Tyger opened fire on the southeast and northeast bastions, and these two vessels bore the brunt of a tremendous cannonade from the fort. The French artillery was well served, doing fearful damage on board the British vessels. On the Kent, save the admiral himself and one lieutenant, every officer was killed or wounded. One shot struck down Captain Speke and shattered the leg of his son, a brave boy of sixteen, who refused to allow his wound to be examined until his father had been attended to, and then bore the pain of the rough amputation of those days without a murmur.
Meanwhile Clive’s men had climbed to the roofs of houses near the fort, which commanded the French batteries; and his musketeers poured in a galling fire and shot down the gunners at their work. As the walls of the barracks and fort were shattered by the guns from the ships, the Sepoys crept closer and closer, awaiting the word to storm.