Whenever France and England went to war in the eighteenth century, strategists on both sides also turned their attention westwards, across the Atlantic. Both nations had gradually established numerous colonies in the West Indies and these immensely rich sugar-producing islands were constantly vying for the attentions of opposing battle fleets anxious to acquire more territory for their political masters. This resulted in a disproportionate number of warships being stationed in the Caribbean, with naval activity there sometimes overshadowing what was occurring elsewhere on the world's oceans. Thus, the Royal Navy's policy of blockading the French fleet in its harbours at home was naturally extended to the West Indies and, in the summer of 1803, a sizeable French squadron found itself trapped in the harbour of Cap Francois on the island of San Domingo. Seizing the opportunity afforded by a violent squall on the afternoon of 24th July, two French '74's', Le Duquesne and Le Duguay-Trouin, in company with the 40-gun frigate Guerriére put to sea in the hope of slipping past the British squadron offshore which had itself been blown some distance away by the weather. Unfortunately for them, the French vessels were spotted immediately and the British gave chase; the two '74's' parted company in order to divide their pursuers and, after a prolonged chase, Duquesne was captured. Le Duguay-Trouin and Guerriére were luckier however and, after seeing off H.M.S. Elephant, another '74', set course for Ferrol (Spain) and began an undisturbed crossing of the Atlantic.
By 29th August they were in the southern end of the Bay of Biscay where, late in the day, they were sighted by the 38-gun British frigate Boadicea under the command of Captain John Maitland. Despite being alone and not even able to equal the fire-power of the French frigate let alone the much larger '74', Maitland did not hesitate. Cramming on all sail to give chase and ignoring the heavy weather, Maitland pursued both Frenchmen, still unidentified, into the night and through the following day and night as well. The morning of the 31st was foggy but Maitland held his course until, at about 1.30pm., the weather began to clear and suddenly revealed his heavily-armed opponents at close quarters. The two French ships straightaway turned on Boadicea, and Le Duguay-Trouin opened fire with a broadside at 2.00pm. Maitland sent her a broadside in return but, seeing the danger of his position, decided to retire with honour rather than risk capture. Despite some slight injury to her sails and rigging, Boadicea pulled away smartly and, after about an hour, the French realized they could not catch her and abandoned their pursuit. Even though the two French warships survived what was, for them, a minor engagement, Captain Maitland's gallantry and dogged persistence brought him high praise from his peers and gave both his reputation and his future prospects a significant boost.
At the conclusion of an exciting career at sea and having been a Captain since August 1797, Maitland was promoted, successively, Rear-Admiral of the Blue (1821), White (1825) and Red (1830) Squadrons prior to his death in 1836.