BMMHS Evening Zoom Talk: The Battle of the Nile 1798

The Battle of the Nile 1798

Speaker: Philip K. Allan

BZT Evening 9th June 2021

Wednesday 9th June 2021; 7:30 pm

The Battle of the Nile 1798

BMMHS are pleased to welcome back Philip Allan who gave an excellent talk in July 2019, on the Wooden World, about the life in Nelson’s Navy. This time Philip will be talking to us about The Battle of the Nile.

Battle of The Nile
Battle of the Nile. Plate II from The naval achievements of Great Britain from the year 1793 to 1817
Battle of the Nile 1798
Battle of the Nile, painting by Mather Brown

The Battle of the Nile 1798

The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay) was a major naval battle fought between the  Royal Navy and the Navy of the French Republic at Aboukir Bay on the Mediterranean coast off the Nile Delta of Egypt from the 1st to the 3rd of August 1798. The battle was the climax of a naval campaign that had raged across the Mediterranean during the previous three months, as a large French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria carrying an expeditionary force under General Napoleon Bonaparte. The British fleet was led in the battle by Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson; they decisively defeated the French under Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d’Aigalliers.

Battle of The Nile
Battle of the Nile, painting by Richard Brydges Beechey

Bonaparte Invades Eygpt

Bonaparte sought to invade Egypt as the first step in a campaign against British India, part of a greater effort to drive Britain out of the French Revolutionary Wars. As Bonaparte’s fleet crossed the Mediterranean, it was pursued by a British force under Nelson who had been sent from the British fleet in the Tagus to learn the purpose of the French expedition and to defeat it. He chased the French for more than two months, on several occasions missing them only by a matter of hours. Bonaparte was aware of Nelson’s pursuit and enforced absolute secrecy about his destination. He was able to capture Malta and then land in Egypt without interception by the British naval forces.

Battle of the Nile
Battle of the Nile, August 1st 1798 at 10 pm, by Thomas Luny. Orient is depicted aflame at the centre-left.

The French Anchor in Aboukir Bay

With the French army ashore, the French fleet anchored in Aboukir Bay, 20 miles (32 km) northeast of Alexandria. Commander Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d’Aigalliers believed that he had established a formidable defensive position. The British fleet arrived off Egypt on 1 August and discovered Brueys’s dispositions, and Nelson ordered an immediate attack. His ships advanced on the French line and split into two divisions as they approached. One cut across the head of the line and passed between the anchored French and the shore, while the other engaged the seaward side of the French fleet.


Battle of the Nile 1798
The Destruction of L'Orient at the Battle of the Nile, 1 August 1798, painting by George Arnald, on display at the National Maritime Museum.

The French Flagship Explodes

Trapped in a crossfire, the leading French warships were battered into surrender during a fierce three-hour battle, while the centre succeeded in repelling the initial British attack. As British reinforcements arrived, the centre came under renewed assault and, at 22:00, the French flagship L’Orient exploded. The rear division of the French fleet attempted to break out of the bay, with Brueys dead and his vanguard and centre defeated, but only two ships of the line and two frigates escaped from a total of 17 ships engaged.

Battle of The Nile
The Battle of the Nile 1899 William Lionel Wyllie 1851-1931 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1899

Royal Navy Dominance

The battle reversed the strategic situation between the two nations’ forces in the Mediterranean and entrenched the Royal Navy in the dominant position that it retained for the rest of the war. It also encouraged other European countries to turn against France. Bonaparte’s army was trapped in Egypt, and Royal Navy dominance off the Syrian coast contributed significantly to the French defeat at the Siege of Acre in 1799 which preceded Bonaparte’s return to Europe. Nelson had been wounded in the battle, and he was proclaimed a hero across Europe. His captains were also highly praised and went on to form the nucleus of the legendary Nelson’s Band of Brothers. 


About the speaker – Philip Allan

Philip K Allan comes from Hertfordshire where he lives with his wife and two teenage daughters. He has an excellent knowledge of the 18thcentury navy. He studied it as part of his history degree at London University, which awoke a lifelong passion for the period. A longstanding member of the Society for Nautical Research, he is also a keen sailor and writes for the US Naval Institute’s magazine Naval History.

He is author of the Alexander Clay series of naval fiction. The first book in the series, The Captain’s Nephew, was published in January 2018, and immediately went into the Amazon top 100 bestseller list for Sea Adventures. He has subsequently published eight further novels in the series, the last of which, On the Malabar Coast, went on sale this year.

In a new departure Philip has also written about the Battle of the Atlantic in Sea of Wolves.

Philip Allan Alexander Clay Series
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