On June 18, 1809 HMS Inflexible (64) and HMS Bonne Citoyenne (20) departed Spithead for Quebec escorting a convoy of merchantmen.
Bonne Citoyenne was a sloop which had been taken from the French by HMS Phaeton in 1796. She carried eighteen 32-pound carronades, two long nines as bow chasers, and had a crew of 120 officers and men. Her captain was Commander William Mounsey. Mounsey, was 44 years old, old for a commander, and had left Carlisle to go to sea at age 13. He’d been promoted to commander in 1802 and probably was looking with trepidation at being placed on half pay for the rest of his life.
Being promoted to commander from lieutenant was a mixed blessing because the jump to post captain required patronage and luck, neither of which Mounsey seemed to have going for him, and there were many more commanders than there were ships rating them. Often being promoted to commander meant you spent the remainder of your career unemployed once your current ship paid off.
On July 2, his lookouts spotted a suspicious sail astern and he left the convoy to investigate. He was unable to locate the contact, ended up out of sight of the convoy, and altered course to try to catch up. Three days later, on the afternoon of July 5, as he was still racing to join the convoy he encountered a large French frigate in the act of boarding an English merchantman. The French ship immediately abandoned its near-prize and set off under full sail. Mounsey did what any commander of a 20-gun sloop would do when confronted by a frigate. He set out in hot pursuit.
Eighteen hours later Bonne Citoyenne was within pistol shot, about 25 yards, and took the frigate, now identified as La Furieuse (48), under fire.
The battle raged for nearly seven hours. Bonne Citoyenne fired an astonishing 129 broadsides, using starboard and larboard batteries, an average of one broadside every three minutes. She received seventy in return, losing her top masts and having her lower masts, her sails, rigging shot to ribbons. In addition, she had three guns dismounted early in the fight. As Bonne Citoyenne expended her last reserves of powder, La Furieuse lost her masts and Mounsey closed with the intention of boarding. As he did so the French frigate struck her colors.
The boarding party found that La Furieuse had 14 holes shot through her hull, five feet of water in the hold and rising, and was very near foundering. Mounsey sent on board his second lieutenant, William Sandom, and the ship’s carpenter to stabilize the situation. Under their leadership, La Furieuse was stabilized and put in good enough condition for Bonne Citoyen to tow.
La Furieuse, it turned out, had fled the French West Indies on April 1. Though she was rated at 48 guns she was carrying only 20, twelve 42-pound carrondes, two long 24-pounders, and six 8-pounders. These guns substantially outgunned Bonne Citoyenne. Her crew consisted of some 200 seamen and about 40 soldiers, she carried a cargo of sugar and coffee as well.
The battle cost La Furieuse 35 killed and 37 wounded, the wounded included her captain and two lieutenants. Bonne Citoyen lost one seaman killed and five wounded.
Mounsey towed La Furieuse into Halifax. He was made post and asked if he wished to command La Furieuse when she came out of the dockyard. He agreed. She wasn’t ready for sea again until November 1811 and Mounsey took her to join the Toulon blockade under Admiral Sir Edward Pellew. He served there with distinction and earned a reputation as an energetic commander.
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars he retired and died in 1830.