One of the elements of the French defensive strategy was to try and set fire to the British fleet using fire ships, small crafts filled with flammable debris that were cast directly in the direction of enemy ships so that a destructive fire would spread and, it was hoped, cause heavy damage. Great hopes were pinned on this strategy and considerable sums were invested to carry it through85.
On the night of June 28, the French went into action. Taking advantage of the dark, seven fire ships left the Québec harbour and sailed towards their target. As they came closer to their goal – or not close enough, it would seem, as the rest of the story later revealed –, the fire was set. The British were taken by surprise. The soldiers camped out on the Île d'Orléans, fearing an attack, sounded a general alarm. On the river, the ship closest to the destructive vehicle, the HMS Centurion, severed its cables to avoid disaster. In the meantime, British sailors, using small boats, towed the fire ships and put them out of range where they would be safe. The French operation was a failure. Apparently, the fire ships were lit too early so that the enemy was able to manoeuver to counter the attack. As a result, no ships were burned and Captain Dubois de la Miltière died with two or three of his seamen. The only consequence for the British was that they got a good scare and were led to sound a general alarm.