The 'Annus Mirabilis' of 1759 saw British victories in North America, when the British drove the French out of the Ohio Country, the Conquest of Québec, the Capture of Guadeloupe and the Repulse of the French at Madras. British troops were victorious at the Battle of Minden and the Royal Navy won the Battles of Lagos Bay and Quiberon Bay, starting a period of supremacy at sea which lasted more than a century and a half.
These victories should have ended the threat of invasion to Britain, however in October that year François Thurot (1727-1760), a smuggler, privateer and naval officer, who had already successfully raided British shipping off northern Britain, evaded the blockade of Dunkirk and sailed north with six ships and over a thousand troops embarked. Sailing via Gothenburg, Bergen and the Faroes, but much troubled by bad weather and lack of provisions, Thurot lost company with three of his smaller vessels. On 21st February 1760, Thurot entered Belfast Lough and landed at Carrickfergus, in northern Ireland, where he captured the castle and held the town for five days, demanding supplies and a ransom of nearby Belfast.
Thurot's raid had been intended to be a diversion from a larger French invasion of southern Britain, which had been thwarted by French losses elsewhere: nevertheless, Thurot's success from an unexpected quarter threw all into confusion with fear even of a return of Bonnie Prince Charlie to Scotland to arouse a new Jacobite rebellion.
When news reached Dublin, riders were sent to other ports asking for any ships there to hasten north against Thurot and his remaining ships, Maréchal de Belle-Isle (44-guns), Blonde (36-guns) and Terpsichore (24-guns). By chance, Captain John Eliot (1732-1808) had been driven by the weather and lack of victuals into Kinsale in the south of Ireland with the frigates H.M. Ships Aeolus (32-guns), Brilliant (36-guns) and Pallas (36-guns). Sailing as soon as he heard the news, Elliot was off Lough Belfast on 26th February but the French were already gone. Hearing rumours that the French intended to attack Whitehaven, Eliot set off in search of the fleet. At 4am., on 28th February 1760, Eliot caught sight of Thurot's three ships, and, in his words: "About nine I got alongside their commodore; and, in a few minutes, the action became general, and continued very briskly for an hour and half, when all three struck their colours."
Eliot subsequently put into Ramsay, Isle of Man, to refit his ships and his prizes, where the Maréchal de Belle-Isle, which had fought well and suffered most, was with difficulty prevented from sinking. Thurot's body was not found but sometime later a corpse was washed ashore near Port William in the Mull of Galloway, where it was identified by a tobacco box of chased silver, engraved with his name, and he was buried with military honours.
Eliot received the thanks of both the Westminster and Irish Houses of Parliament, and the freedom of the city of Cork. Blonde and Terpsichore were taken into the Royal Navy.
It is recorded that Richard Wright was present at this action.