The year 1801 also saw the largest engagement in which Saumarez commanded, the battle or battles of Algeziras

Battle of Algeziras

This was again an action played out within sight of those on land, this time the garrison and population of Gibraltar; Algeziras being a port on the African side of the straits just four miles away.

Saumarez had found a squadron of French vessels off Algeziras and determined to attack them. Alas the wind failed at a critical point and the advantage was lost. A fierce and bloody action entailed which saw the French vessels heavily damaged, but also heavy damage sustained by the English fleet, including one vessel lost to the French, the Hannibal.

The French were very much assisted by the coastal batteries of the town. If matters had been left like this, Saumarez’s reputation would inevitably have suffered. However, he led his battered ships back to Gibraltar where his men worked night and day to get them ready for action again. Just six days later a Spanish fleet comprising six ships of the line arrived to escort the French vessels to Cadiz. Even though he was heavily out-numbered and out-gunned, Saumarez did not hesitate. He set off from Gibraltar with the remaining serviceable vessels and engaged the enemy. Fortune favoured Saumarez. Two Spanish first-rate three-deckers ran into each other, one was already on fire, which spread to the second and both exploded. The enemy were routed, a French vessel surrendered, the rest fled.

Again Saumarez was fêted at Gibraltar. He was created a Knight of the Bath and received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. Even the States of Jersey passed a resolution eulogising Sir James and including the following: “…ce qui relève infiniment à leurs yeux le prix de cette dernière victoire est la consideration qu’elle est due à un natif de l’île de Guernesey, à laquelle ce pays se sent étroitement attaché par les liens d’une commune origine, de la proximité, de l’amitié”, which translates: “…what exalts in their eyes the value of this latest victory infinitely is the consideration that it is due to a native of the Island of Guernsey, to which this land feels itself closely attached by bonds comprising a common origin, geographical proximity and friendship”.

Saumarez had already received one magnificent silver vase from the Island of Guernsey for his capture of the Réunion. The victory at Algeziras was the occasion of the presentation of a second silver vase to a man: “… whose brilliant achievements have not only immortalised his name, but will for ever reflect lustre on his native isle, and add to the glory of the British empire”.