In January 1795, HMS Blanche, a 32-gun frigate, 12-pound main battery, under Captain Robert Faulknor was patrolling off Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadaloupe. Captain Faulknor arranged to look in on the harbor at Guadaloupe by arriving during the night, heaving-to about out four miles out to sea, and creeping in so he could look into the harbor at first light. Early on the morning of January 4, HMS Blanche found Picque, a 36-gun frigate, at anchor just outside the harbor. Picque was disinclined to fight and moved, along with a schooner she was employing as a tender, under the cover of the fort at Gosier.
Picque made several feints towards HMS Blanche as if intending to engage in combat but pulled back each time. About 1 pm, Blanche took as a prize an American schooner out of Bordeaux with a cargo of wine and brandy. Picque bore down on Blanche and fired four shots at her from beyond the range of shot, as Blanche turned to meet this challenge Picque retreated.
At 7 pm, Faulknor decided to try to draw Picque from its place of safety under the harbor fortifications. He steered southeast in the direction of the island of Marie-Galante. Faulknor was rewarded at 8 pm when his lookouts saw Picque about seven miles astern in pursuit. At this time Blanche was towing the captured American schooner. Faulknor recovered the men aboard the schooner and cut it loose.
Shortly after midnight on January 5 Blanche exchanged long range broadsides with Picque which had gained the weather gage, resulting in no damage to either party. By 1 am Blanche was about 100 yards away from Picque on her starboard quarter, point blank range for Blanche’s main batteries, with the intention of pulling ahead, crossing Picque’s bows and raking her. Picque frustrated this movement by wearing in the direction of Blanche and they began exchanging broadsides at close range.
Blanche proved to be a slightly faster sailer and by 2:30 am Blanche had disengaged from Picque. Faulknor then attempted to tack larboard in order to cross Picque’s bow and rake her. As he was carrying out this maneuver the damage dealt to Blanche during the exchange of broadsides became evident. Blanche’s mizen mast went over the side taking the main mast with it. Blanche fell out of control due to the loss of sail area and the drag created by the two downed masts causing it to run foul of Picque resulting in Picque’s bowsprit extending over Blanche’s larboard quarter. The French made several attempts to board Blanche which Faulknor and his crew successfully beat off. During this time part of the guns on Blanche’s quarterdeck a few of the main battery which could be brought to bear continued to fire into Picque. Picque returned fire from her foremast fighting top and with some of her quarterdeck guns which had been manhandled forward.
At times like this desperate ideas are born.
Faulknor quickly assessed the situation. He probably realized that his boarders were going to have little more luck charging across Picque’s bowsprit into the fires of her marines on her forecastle and in her fighting tops and the guns the French had maneuvered up into the forecastle than Picque’s boarders had had against Blanche. He also knew that once Picque had worked herself free that Blanche would ultmately have to strike her colors as she has lost her ability to maneuver.
Taking advantage of the fact that Picque was still locked to Blanche, Faulknor ordered one of the ship’s thick hawsers manhandled to the area under Picque’s bowsprit. Faulknor, his second lieutenant David Milne, and a few of the crew attempted to lash the hawser to the bowsprit to allow Blanche to take the still resisting Picque in tow. Around 3 am a musket shot, probably from the foretop of Picque, struck Faulknor in the chest killing him instantly (some accounts say he was mortally wounded and continued to direct the action until receiving additional wounds).
About this time the lashings broke and the ships separated. Picque crossed the stern of Blanche but Blanche, being out of control, collided again with Picque, this time with her bowsprit extending over Blanche’s starboard quarter. In passing, however, Blanche was able to take down Picque’s fore mast and mizen mast substantially leveling the playing field.
At this point the late Captain Faulknor’s plan bore fruit. The crew had the hawser in place and secured to the stump of the main mast. The hawser was already run out to the larboard quarter. The new commander of Blanche, First Lieutenant Frederick Watkins, quickly lashed the hawser to Picque’s bowsprit, and made sail using the one remaining mast to begin towing a resisting Picque. The French crew tried repeatedly to cut the lashing but were unable to overcome the fire of Blanche’s marine detachment.
Things were not going all that well on Blanche. In addition to having lost two masts and her captain, Blanche’s quarterdeck was under constant musket fire from the forecastle and fighting tops of Picque and to add to the chaos Picque could bring her bowchasers and some of her quarterdeck 6-pounders to bear on Blanche.
Blanche, like most ships coming out of British yards, had no stern ports. As Blanche’s carpenter tried in vain to cut through the substantial transom beam, Blanche could only return fire with small arms and two six-pounders located on the quarterdeck.
Lieutenant Watkins took a huge gamble. He had the two 12-pounders in the captain’s cabin turned to face the transom and secured to the stern frame. With a bucket brigade assembled he had the guns blast their way through the transom. A small fire was quickly extinguished and the newly acquired stern chasers began making life very unpleasant on the Picque.
Around 3:15 am, Picque’s main mast fell victim to the two 12-pounders. Now Picque was dismasted and unable to return fire. Still it wasn’t until 5:15 that some members of the French crew called for quarter. All of Blanche’s boats had been destroyed during the battle. So when Acting First Lieutenant Milne went aboard to take possession of Picque he and his 10-man prize crew attempted to crawl across the hawser between the ships. Their combined weight pushed the hawser into the sea and they had to swim part of the distance.
At 8 am, the 64-gun HMS Veteran arrived to help take possession of Picque and assist Blanche in repairs.
After a battle of some five hours which left both combatants severely damaged the British frigate lost her captain, one midshipman, five seamen, and one marine private killed as well as one midshipman, two quartermasters, the armorer, a marine sergeant, 13 seamen, and four marines wounded. Against the eight dead and 21 wounded on Blanche, Picque lost 76 killed and 110 wounded from a crew of about 279. Most probably killed after the two 12-pounders got into action.