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The Battle of Cape Passaro
1718
Isaac Sailmaker

The Battle of Cape Passaro 1718 Isaac Sailmaker

A painting showing an action during the war with Spain, 1718–1720. In 1717, to strengthen the Treaty of Utrecht, Britain, France and Austria contemplated ceding Sicily to the Emperor. This arrangement displeased the Spanish, who wanted to recover the island. Admiral Sir George Byng was accordingly sent to the Mediterranean.

Early August found Byng's fleet at anchor in the Bay of Naples. On August 6th, he sailed for Messina, the only place in Sicily that had not fallen to the Spaniards. On approaching, he heard that the Spanish fleet was close by and he soon sighted them The Spanish retreated before him in line of battle all that day and night. To ensure that he did not lose them in the darkness he sent ahead his fastest ships, who kept close to the enemy, carrying lights to guide the rest of the fleet.

The morning of August 11th, found Admiral Sir George Byng, in the ‘Barfleur’, close to his enemy and to windward of him off Cape Passaro, the south-eastern tip of Sicily. Spain and England were not formally at war at this time, since the war did not officially break out until December 1718, but once the Spanish fired on the nearest English ships, this gave Byng his excuse to attack. The English were superior in numbers and some of the Spanish ships were taken in the main action and some taken or burnt by their crews, who fled to the coast of Sicily.

This included the Spanish Commander-in-Chief, Vice-Admiral Don Antonio Castaneta, and Rear-Admiral Don Fernando Chacon, along with 13 out of the 20 larger ships of war. In the painting the Spanish flagship ‘Real San Felipe’ can be seen in the centre. She is flanked on either side by British ships, probably the ‘Superbe’ and ‘Kent’ shown in the action with her. Another ship can be seen on fire in the foreground on the far right and the sea is shown littered with wreckage from the battle.

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