Action of 4 August 1800
|Action of 4 August 1800|
|Part of the French Revolutionary Wars|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Henry Meriton||Jean Landolphe|
1 ship of the line |
7 merchant ships
|Casualties and losses|
|None||2 frigates captured|
The action of 4 August 1800 was a highly unusual
Belliqueux rapidly out ran Landolphe's flagship Concorde, leaving Landolphe with no option but to surrender without any serious resistance. The rest of the French squadron continued to flee separately during the night, each pursued by two East Indiamen. After an hour and a half in pursuit, with darkness falling, the East Indiaman Exeter came alongside the French frigate Médée, giving the impression by use of lights that Exeter was a large ship of the line. Believing himself outgunned, Captain Jean-Daniel Coudin, of Médée, surrendered, only discovering his assailant's true identity when he came aboard Exeter. The action is the only occasion during the war in which a British merchant vessel captured a large French warship.
By 1800, the British and French had been at war for seven years and the British dominated the sea, following a number of significant victories over the French, Dutch and Spanish fleets.
The large convoys of
On 6 March 1799, a French squadron had sailed from
The British convoy consisted of the East Indiamen Bombay Castle, Exeter, Dorsetshire, Coutts, and Neptune, the Botany Bay ships Royal Admiral and Anne, and the whaler Seringapatam. The sole British warship was Belliqueux. On 4 August they were near the island of Trinidade off the Brazilian coast. From there the East Indiamen would catch the westerly trade winds that would carry them to Saint Helena, the Cape of Good Hope, and their destinations.
At 07:00 on 4 August, while the French squadron was cruising off the Brazilian coast, lookouts sighted sails on the horizon. Uncertain of the identity of the strange ships, the French gradually closed the distance during the morning. Landolphe could see that there were seven large vessels and three smaller ships, all unmistakably British. He was unable however to tell whether they were naval
With the French in full flight, Bulteel determined to continue the ruse that his convoy consisted of warships. While he and Belliqueux pursued Concorde, he signalled for his largest East Indiamen to follow the other French ships to ensure that they did not return and counterattack the convoy while Belliqueux was engaged. Exeter, under Captain Henry Meriton, and Bombay Castle, under Captain John Hamilton, were to follow Médée while Coutts, under Captain Robert Torin, and Neptune, under Captain Nathaniel Spens, were to follow Franchise. All four vessels were over 1200 tons (bm) and carried 30 cannon each, but none had more than 130 crew aboard and could not compete in accuracy or rate of fire with the 315 men aboard each of the French ships. Throughout the afternoon the chase continued, with Belliqueux steadily gaining on the French flagship while Franchise, accompanied by the American schooner, gained on her pursuers. At 17:20, Bulteel was within long range of Landolphe's ship, which returned fire when possible. During the exchange of gunfire neither side suffered damage or casualties, but the ship of the line was clearly gaining on the frigate and within ten minutes Landolphe surrendered rather than see his ship destroyed and his men killed in an unequal combat.
By 19:00, Franchise had dumped her lifeboats and a large quantity of guns and supplies overboard, lightening the ship enough for her to far outstrip the pursuit. As night fell the French frigate made a full escape from the British force.
In the engagement on 4 August 1800 neither side had a single man killed or wounded; the action still inflicted a severe naval defeat on a powerful French frigate force, ending its successful raiding career. Captain Jurien in Franchise spent another three weeks off the Brazilian coast before returning to France.
Bulteel's convoy continued on, pausing at Rio de Janeiro on 12 August to resupply. The East Indiamen then went on to Saint Helena on their way to Asia. The two Botany Bay ships sailed on to Australia and the whaler Seringapatam sailed for the South Seas.
The captured frigates were valuable
Bulteel and Meriton were commended. Meriton was to fight two more naval battles against the French, serving at the successful defence of the China Fleet at the Battle of Pulo Aura in February 1804. He was badly wounded and captured by a French frigate squadron after a fierce defence at the action of 3 July 1810.
Citations and references
- ^ Nelson Against Napoleon, Gardiner, p.11.
- ^ Nelson Against Napoleon, Gardiner, p. 12
- ^ The Victory of Seapower, Gardiner, p. 88.
- ^ The Victory of Seapower, Gardiner, p. 101
- ^ a b Woodman, p. 149
- ^ a b c James, Vol. 3, p. 45
- ^ Nelson Against Napoleon, Gardiner, p. 148.
- ^ a b Lloyd's List, – accessed 11 November 2013.
- ^ Woodman, p. 148.
- ^ a b c Clowes, p. 532
- ^ a b c Miller, p. 155
- ^ a b James, Vol. 3, p. 46
- ^ Grant (1803), p. 52.
- ^ Grant (1803), p. 52.
- ^ "No. 15328". The London Gazette. 13 January 1801. pp. 68–69.
- ^ Winfield (2008), p. 209.
- ^ "No. 15563". The London Gazette. 1 March 1803. p. 232.
- ^ James, Vol. 5, p. 264.
- ISBN 1-86176-013-2.
- Gardiner, Robert, ed. (2001) . Nelson Against Napoleon. Caxton Editions. ISBN 1-86176-026-4.
- Grant, James (1803) The narrative of a voyage of discovery: Performed in the years 1800, 1801 and 1802 to New South Wales... (Egerton).
- Gardiner, Robert, ed. (2001) . The Victory of Seapower. Caxton Editions. ISBN 1-84067-359-1.
- ISBN 0-85177-907-7.
- ISBN 0-85177-909-3.
- ISBN 0-7054-0635-0.
- Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1-86176-246-1.
- ISBN 1-84119-183-3.