This is an essential first hand account of the war the Royal Navy fought against Napoleon Bonaparte's France. Truth is said to be often stranger than fiction and this tale of battle, capture and escape could have come directly from the pen of C. S Forrester or one of the other famous authors of life before the mast in the early nineteenth century. While sailing on the frigate Phoebe, Boys was present when she took two ships of the enemy fleet. Boys was subsequently put aboard one as prize-master. His elation was short lived as their little convoy was soon surprised by four French frigates and Boys and his scratch crew taken prisoner. Incarceration within a daunting fortress in France followed but still Boys and his companions planned and effected an audacious escape from their formidable prison that was but the prelude to a flight through enemy held territory in the hope of crossing the Channel to England and liberty.
At length, on the 8th of May, positive information was brought, that all would be in readiness at ten p. m.; accordingly, at that hour, the weather fine, and the night dark, we marched down to the beach, and as soon as the patrol had passed, the private signal was made and answered. The boat gliding silently in shore with muffled oars; we rushed in with the rapidity of thought, and in an instant were all safe afloat; each seized an oar, and vigorously applying his utmost strength, we soon reached beyond the range of shot.<br>
It were in vain to attempt a faithful description of our feelings at this momentous crisis; the lapse of a few minutes had wrought such a change of extremes, that I doubt, if amidst a confusion of senses, we could immediately divest ourselves of the apprehensions, which constant habit had engrafted on the mind; nor, indeed, could we relinquish the oar, but continued at this laborious, though now delightful, occupation, almost without intermission the whole night.<br>
When day dawned, the breeze freshened from the eastward, and as the sun began to diffuse his cheering rays, the wide expanse of liberty opened around us, and in the distant rear—the afflicted land of misery and bondage, was beheld, with feelings of gratitude and triumph.<br>
No other object intercepted the boundless prospect, save a solitary gun-brig, which was soon approached: naturally anxious to proceed with despatch, we passed on, and, unobserved, reached a considerable distance, when a boat was discovered making towards us; being in no fear of Frenchmen thus venturing so far from land, we hove to; and, having made the officer acquainted with the circumstances of our embarkation and destination, again spread the canvas, and made rapid progress to the N.W.<br>
About noon, the wind still increasing, and the sea rising, it was deemed prudent to close reef the sail. While thus delightfully scudding before the foaming billows, which occasionally broke, as if to overwhelm our little boat, only fifteen feet in length, each eye was steadily fixed ahead, anxious to be the first to announce land. It was not, however, till towards three p. m. that the white cliffs were seen.<br>
Although our situation was already replete with “joy and gladness;” still, the first sight of our native shore, after so long an absence, coupled with the recollection of conquered difficulties, excited increased happiness; and afforded ample compensation for past sufferings, though not without a pleasing hope, that promotion would be their reward.<br>
On falling in with a fishing smack, at the back of the Goodwin Sands, the master welcomed us on board, and taking the boat in tow, ran for Ramsgate. On entering the harbour at five o'clock, I landed with such ineffable emotions of joy, and gratitude to that Almighty Disposer of events, who had vouchsafed to support and protect us through a constant succession of dangers and sufferings, during a period of nearly six months, and who, in his infinite mercy, had permitted our exertions to be finally crowned with success; that, with a heart throbbing almost to suffocation, regardless of the numerous spectators, I fell down, and kissed with rapture, the blessed land of liberty.