Cool or what? This is an eyewitness account of an action between two British and two French warships in 1756. The French were escorting a convoy into Rochfort when they were sighted by two British cruisers, Colchester, of 50 guns and Lyme, a frigate with 28 guns. " Colchester at sea, June 20 1756. .....The Lyme, captain Edward Vernon; and the Colchester, captain Lucius O'Brien, were ordered by admiral Boscawen, from the fleet, to cruise together on the coast of Brittany, and scarce a day passed but we either burnt or sunk some French vessel. On the 17th of May, in the morning, we took a French snow laden with deals and resin. An officer was sent on board to burn her; while he was doing it, the man at the masthead called down, that he saw a sail in the offing; upon which captain O'Brien hailed captain Vernon and desired him to make sail, and that he would follow, which he did with all the sail he could make. So soon as the officer returned from burning the vessel, and our boat hoisted in, a second sail was espied by the man at the masthead, and at half-past eleven a.m. we discovered they were enemies, as they also did at the same time with respect to us, making all sail they could to get from us, with top-gallant royals, lower, top-mast, and top-gallant steering sails, keeping all full. Seing they could not weather us on the other tack, sometimes they bore away two or three points, then hauled their wind; but finding we gained on them fast and that it was impossible to escape us, they shortened sail by degrees, till they were under three topsails, when they hoisted their colours and kept close together. We did the same; and as we neared them saw plainly the name of each ship wrote on their stern; the first called La Fidelle, of 32 guns; the other L'Aquillon, of fifty-eight, which we counted very distinctly; the later having eleven guns below on a side, twelve on her upper deck, four on her quarter deck, and two on her forecastle, with a great number of men at small arms in her tops, poop, quarter-deck and forecastle. we had a clear ship fore and aft, and eveything ready for action, with colours flying, our people in great spirits gave three cheers, as did the Lyme's people also. The French indeed answered us, but it was very faintly. Our captain's intention was to have gone between the two enemy's ships and to have given them each a broadside; but they kept too close for us to put that scheme in execution; we therefore took the first of the Fidelle, reserving ours for the Aquillon, which was the headmost ship; and at half past five in the evening, being close upon her weather quarter, she gave us her whole broadside below and aloft, as did the Fidelle also at the same time. We immediately returned it with our whole fire at the Aquillon, as did the Lyme at the other. The third broadside we received , most unluckily cut our tiller rope, great part of the steering wheel and lead trumpet, so that our ship directly came round too; upon which the Aquillon put her helm hard a weather and raked us fore and aft. Perceiving something extraordinary had happened on board us they let down their foresail and bore away, with design, as we supposed, to assist their their comrade, then warmly engaged with the Lyme at some distance; but we soon got tackles upon our tiller below, shivered our after falls, put our helm aport, and following her, got between the two enemy's ships, and upon the Aquillon's lee bow. Steering from bow to bow we gave her five smart broadsides, most of which raked her fore and aft, and so near as to be almost on board each other; our yard arms near touching hers. We then exchanged hand grenadoes for some time from our tops; and one of hers falling on our forecastle blew up a great number of musket cartridges, but happily did no great mischief. When we raked her she was silent, and for some time did not fire a gun; her ensign being foul, our people gave three cheers, thinking she had struck; upon which the Aquillon put her helm alee, hawled up her foresail (for we were then going large) and began to fire again. At this time our braces, bowlines etc being most of them shot away, we got down our steering sail tacks for braces and hauled upon a wind; but she got upon the weather gage of us, which we could never after recover. We now reeved a new tiller rope, but it proved too short, so that we were obliged to reeve the mizen sheet for the a tiller rope, and put a luff tackle in lieu; we continued engaging about point blank musket shot (the Lyme and Fidelle also still engaged, but at a considerable distance from us). The great quantity of bar shot, pieces of old iron bars etc. which the French fired upon us, tore our sails and rigging all to tatters, our mizzen topsail was down, the sheets, stoppers and slings entirely shot away, and the mizzen all in rags. In short, everything was so torn and cut to pieces, that we had not the ship under the least command; luckily for us it was fine weather and smooth water, or we must have lost all our masts, they being very much wounded, and scarce a whole shroud left to secure them. We saw, before dark, two of the Aquillon's ports beat into one, and about ten o'clock, several great explosions on board her. We were so near that the wads from each ship fell on the deck on fire, and one from her guns came into an upper deck port of ours, beat a cartridge of powder out of the man's hand that was going to put it into the gun; it set fire to some others, and blew up all the people near that gun, in a terrible manner. Other wads set fire to our hammocks on the poop but it was happily soon extinguished. Thus we continued to engage until half past twelve at night, when the Aquillon hawled on board her fore tack, set all the sail she could, kept close upon a wind, and left us in such a situation that it was impossible for us to follow her. The Lyme and Fidelle had left off engaging about ah hour and a half before us. Besides the shattered condition of our sails, masts and rigging, we received several shot between wind and water, and were obliged to turn our people from the guns to pump ship, for we made four feet water an hour, and heeled ship to caulk our leaks with plugs and tallow. All the remaining part of the night and next day we were employed in knotting, splicing, and reeving new rigging, and bending other sails. Our officers and men behaved well and in high spirits during the whole engagement; but out guns were very weakly manned, our people being obliged to help each other to run them out when loaded, and were all very much fatigued, having been up thirty-five hours. We had no more than four men killed on the spot, and thirty-five wounded, several of whom are since dead of their wounds, and others not expected to recover. The Aquillon (by account of a Danish ship from France) had upwards of sixty killed and a great number wounded, and went into Rochfort with great difficulty, being much shattered in her hull. The disproportion of the killed and wounded betwen us and the French may be easily accounted for, by considering, that it is their continual practice to fire at our masts and rigging, in order to disable our ships that way, and that they have generally almost double the number of men. In the action we fired upwards of forty broadsides, all well expended; not a single gun fired, but so near as to do execution on the enemy wherever it took place, and everything was conducted with as little noise and confusion as possible during the whole engagement, which was full six hours and half. After this it might be expected that we should immediately have steered for some port (as we find the Lyme did) but our captain judged it more the duty of an officer to do his utmost to rejoin his admiral, which we did, and had the carpenters from every ship in the fleet to fix our masts, yards, etc. and repair our hull; when we have received a fresh supply of stores and ammunition, I do suppose we will make out the time first intended for our cruize." Colchester was nearly 10 years old, having been launched by Carter of Southampton in September 1746. Lyme was built in the Royal Dockyard at Deptford in 1748.