Source: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
ARSAC DE TERNAY, CHARLES-HENRI-LOUIS D’, naval officer; b. 27 Jan. 1723, probably at Angers, France, son of Charles-François d’Arsac, Marquis de Ternay, and Louise Lefebvre de Laubrière; d. 15 Dec. 1780 on board the Duc de Bourgogne in the roads of Newport, R.I.
Charles-Henri-Louis d’Arsac de Ternay was admitted to the Knights of Malta as a page to the grand master on 12 Dec. 1737, when he was not yet 15 years old. In October 1738 he joined the midshipmen’s corps at Toulon, France; on 10 Oct. 1743 he was appointed sub-corporal, and on 1 Jan. 1746 sub-lieutenant. He lived in Malta from 1749 to 1752 before becoming a lieutenant-commander at Toulon in February 1756. On 10 Jan. 1761 he attained the rank of captain and took command of the Robuste at Brest.
The surrender of Montreal in September 1760 had virtually ended the French presence in North America. The war continued in Europe, however, and the Duc de Choiseul, the minister of War, Marine, and Colonies, attempted to harass the British on the oceans as well as overseas. At the end of 1761 he worked out a wide-ranging plan of action aimed at intercepting the British fishing vessels on the Grand Banks the following year, and even at attacking Canada in 1763. Ternay was chosen to head the initial expedition, whose immediate objectives were to seize St John’s, Newfoundland, “to cause as much harm as possible to the English . . . [and to advance] if possible as far as Île Royale [Cape Breton Island] to assault the English there.”
The expedition, which was organized in complete secrecy (only Ternay knew its true destination), assembled 750 soldiers – including 161 Irishmen as the nucleus of a battalion to be recruited from the Irish fishermen in Newfoundland. Transport consisted of two ships of the line, a frigate, and two flutes. They set sail from Brest on 8 May 1762. On 23 June, hoisting the British flag in order to avoid giving alarm, the five ships anchored at Bay Bulls, 20 miles south of St John’s. The next day the infantry, under Colonel Joseph-Louis-Bernard de Cléron d’Haussonville, landed without opposition and immediately set off for St John’s. The garrison there was weak, and on 27 June the French fleur-de-lis was raised over Fort William. Ternay and his sailors undertook a systematic destruction of the British establishments: all the fisheries were destroyed, and 460 ships of all sizes were captured or sunk. It is estimated that the British suffered more than £1,000,000 in damages.
The French established themselves in Newfoundland, certain that they would be remaining there until at least the next year; for they believed that the British would make no attempt before spring. But having learned on 15 July of the French attack, Jeffery Amherst, the British commander-in-chief in North America, decided to expel them immediately. He appointed his brother, Lieutenant-Colonel William Amherst, to command seven ships, on which 1,500 British and American soldiers from the garrisons of New York, Halifax, and Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, were embarked. These ships left Louisbourg on 7 September and joined the fleet commanded by Commodore Lord Colvill*.
Already worried at the presence of Colvill, who had been patrolling in the area since 25 August, Ternay had proposed to d’Haussonville that they embark the grenadiers and leave only the fusiliers at Fort William, either to obtain an honourable surrender in the event of a large-scale British attack, or to remain there all winter if the danger proved imaginary. However, when Amherst’s squadron was sighted on 12 September, Ternay disembarked the grenadiers “to resist the enemy.” On 13 September the British troops landed in force at Torbay, ten miles north of St John’s, without any interference from the French fleet. Two days later, despite bitter resistance, the French were driven back into the fort. Ternay assembled the naval officers and grenadier captains in d’Haussonville’s quarters for a last council of war. Against his advice – he apparently advocated the immediate abandonment of the fort – it was decided to leave the grenadiers in the fort until the very last moment, when they would regain the ships in longboats. The fusiliers of the Régiment de la Marine were to protect the operation by preventing the British from cutting the road giving access to the port. Ternay thereupon had the boom closing the entrance to the port destroyed; he also had the guns of the batteries covering the roadstead spiked to prevent the British from using them against the French as they sailed through the Narrows.
Taking advantage of a favourable wind, Ternay however moved forward the departure of his fleet to the night of 15 September. He was not even disturbed by the British, for, as he noted, “a thick fog and fresh easterly winds had forced the enemy squadron out to sea.” While he succeeded in saving his entire squadron, Ternay nevertheless left the fusiliers of La Marine and all the grenadiers under d’Haussonville at St John’s in a desperate situation. D’Haussonville had to surrender to Amherst on 18 September. The British, who had not been able to intercept the French ships, took their revenge a few days later. On 22 September they captured the François-Louis, enroute for St John’s with reinforcements of 93 men, and a short time later the Zéphir, under Captain François-Louis Poulin* de Courval.
Ternay did not reach Brest until 28 Jan. 1763, after he had been chased by two British ships off the French coast, had seized a British privateer, and had taken refuge in the Spanish port of Corunna. When, in accordance with the terms of capitulation, d’Haussonville returned to France, probably in October 1762, he apparently complained about Ternay’s precipitous departure. The latter was not, however, censured, since it was appreciated that he had saved his little fleet. Moreover, negotiations about preliminary peace terms were under way between France, Spain, and Great Britain at Fontainebleau, and the terms were in fact signed on 3 Nov. 1762.
From 1764 to 1769 Ternay received command of various ships, and on 16 Aug. 1771 he was named commandant general of Île de France (Mauritius) and Île Bourbon (Réunion). On 22 December of the same year he attained the rank of brigadier of the naval forces. Appointed rear-admiral as of November 1776, Ternay took part in the War of American Independence as the senior naval officer in Lieutenant-General Rochambeau’s expedition of 1780. Blockaded by a British fleet in the roads of Newport for six months, he died of typhus in December after eight days’ illness. Since he had taken the three monastic vows of the Knights of Malta, he had never married.
AN, Col., B, 114; Marine, B2, 370, 371; B4, 104; C1. BN, mss, NAF 9410 (Margry). [William Amherst], The recapture of St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1762 as described in the journal of Lieut.-Colonel William Amherst, commander of the British expeditionary force, ed. J. C. Webster ([Shediac, N.B.], 1928). Liste de messieurs les chevaliers, chapelains conventuels et servants d’armes des trois vénérables langues de Provence, Auvergne et France ([Valetta?], Malta, 1778). Lacour-Gayet, La marine militaire sous Louis XV; La marine militaire sous Louis XVI. Maurice Linyer de La Barbée, Le chevalier de Ternay: vie de Charles Henry Louis d’Arsac de Ternay, chef d’escadre des armees navales (2v., Grenoble, France, 1972). Warrington Dawson, “Les 2112 français morts aux États-Unis de 1777 à 1783 en combattant pour l’indépendance américaine,” Soc. des américanistes, Journal (Paris), nouv. sér., XXVIII (1936), 1–154. E. W. H. Fyers, “The loss and recapture of St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1762,” Soc. for Army Hist. Research, Journal (London), XI (1932), 179–215. “Une expédition française a Terre-Neuve en 1762,” BRH, XIII (1907), 316–19.