(photo located here)
We briefly mention Commander Conway Shipley in the story below, Capture of l’Egyptienne. In that story he is the 21 year old commander of HMS Hippomenes who gave chase to, and captured, the 36-gun privateer l’Egyptienne in the Windward Islands. But sometimes these marginal notes become interesting stories in their own right.
Shipley was the son of William Davies Shipley, the dean of St. Asaph, who had achieved some degree of notoriety in his own right as the subject of a libel prosecution by the Crown.
We don’t know much about Shipley. We can presume that he went to sea in his early teens and had probably been carried on the muster roll of one or more ships since age five or so because he was already a commander at age 21. Based on his encounter with l’Egyptienne he seems to have been an energetic officer and after that adventure he remained in command of Hippomenes until November when he was posted captain. Continue reading
I decided to do one more Lord Cochrane piece before moving on to something else. This episode predates The Boats of HMS Impérieuse by a year. At the time Cochrane was commanding the 32-gun 12-pounder frigate HMS Pallas with a crew of about 220 and was part of a British squadron blockading the port of Bordeaux. Cochrane had made a habit of raiding deep up the Gironde estuary and had a crew well drilled in small boat work. Cochrane had even had a galley constructed to his own specifications for the express purpose of cutting out enemy shipping and raiding coastal installations.
On April 5, 1806, Pallas was anchored just off the Cordouan light, pictured above, at the mouth of the Gironde. Cochrane received word from local informants that two French corvettes were anchored some 20 miles farther up the river and naturally decided to cut them out.
The plan was equal parts simplicity and audacity.
I’ve noted on a couple of occasions that I’m reluctant to cover the careers of well know figures such as Nelson because they have been covered in such detail that I can’t add anything new to the discussion while on the other hand there is constellation of lesser known, and indeed forgotten, officers which I can write about.
Unfortunately, because of the tie in this blog has with historical fiction set during the Age of Sail one well known naval officer will be the subject of several stories in the future. That officer is, of course, Lord Thomas Cochrane. We’ve previously written on one of Cochrane’s most famous exploits, the capture of the 32-gun frigate El Gamo while commanding the 14-gun HMS Speedy. While that incident made Cochrane’s reputation as a bold and enterprising commander, what is often overlooked is the fact that he was also a skilled practitioner of amphibious warfare. Continue reading
We’ve chronicled in several places the success of British ships in cutting out expeditions and small boat actions. One is left in awe of the casualness with which British sailors took on impossible odds and carried the day. Often they did it with few if any casualties.
Cutting out an enemy ship, or an enemy convoy, was a high risk activity and fraught with danger. Because repeated success breed hubris, there seems to have only rarely been a consideration made that an action was ill advised. Because of that sometimes things did not go according to plan. Continue reading
In May, 1800, the USS Constitution, commanded by Captain Silas Talbot, looked into the neutral port of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, (pictured above) and found a French privateer, the former British packet Sandwich, sheltered there. Captain Talbot tells the story:
We’ve written a bit about cutting out expeditions. Some of these were large scale affairs like that conducted by Captain Sir Henry Duncan at Anzio in which a convoy of 29 French or allied merchantmen was cut out in broad daylight and the coastal fortifications reduced.
In this next installment we will take a look at the small scale variety of this activity.
On March 5, 1804 the British schooner Eclair (10) looked in at Deshaies, Guadaloupe (pictured above) and spotted a schooner anchored there covered by a coastal battery.
We don’t know much about the commander of Eclair, a Lieutenant William Carr, but what we know of his tenure in Eclair indicates that he was a scrapper. Only a month before, Eclair was returning from a routine mission of escorting a packet some 200 miles north of Tortola when an unidentified ship was spotted. Carr gave chase and brought to battle a 22-gun French privateer Grande Decide. They engaged in an exchange of broadsides and musket fire for some 45 minutes until Carr decided to board. The Frenchman decided not to oblige him and broke off the fight. Carr tried to pursue but his rigging was too badly mangled leaving him empty handed and with one dead marine and four wounded seamen. His willingness to attack and attempt to board a heavier armed and more heavily manned foe bespeaks a combative spirit.
Lieutenant Carr decided to try to cut out the schooneer from under the nose of the battery. The sailing master, Mister Salmon, and the ship’s surgeon volunteered to lead the expedition consisting of 10 seamen in Eclair’s boat. The mission started unraveling as soon as the small boat entered the harbor. They were spotted and came under heavy fire from the shore battery and the schooneer, but they preservered. The reached the schooner, boarded it, and carried it after a short fight, killing five and wounding ten of the crew of 49.
While still under fire the boarding party used a combination of towing and sweeps to move the schooner, named the Rose and carrying a brass 9-pounder, out of the harbor.
The boarding party suffered no losses.
Again, this is one of those stories any self-respecting novelist would have to significantly rewrite in order to make it seem believable to the modern reader.
Captain Sir Henry Duncan was the second surviving son of Captain, later Admiral, Adam Duncan, the victor at the Battle of Camperdown.
Sir Henry came from a family with a seafaring tradition and went to sea in 1800 at age 14 aboard the 32-gun frigate, HMS Maidstone. And being the son of Admiral Duncan gave him the internal patronage he needed to rise quickly in rank. He was already a lieutenant by his father’s death in 1804 and was quickly appointed commander in November 1804. He was promoted to post rank while serving under Admiral Sir Cuthbert Collingwood in 1806.
By the time our story takes place in 1813, he was a 27 year old captain of seven year’s seniority commanding the HMS Imperieuse, a 38-gun frigate previously commanded by Lord Cochrane and which was formerly the Spanish Medea taken as a prize when Captain Graham Moore’s squadron seized the Spanish treasure fleet on October 5, 1804.
Cutting out expeditions, the use of one or more small boats to take an enemy ship at anchor, are the staple of naval fiction. Some novels, such as Dudley Pope’s Nicholas Ramage novel, Ramage’s Mutiny, revolve around historical incidents. In that case the cutting out of HMS Hermione, pictured above.
We’re going to begin documenting these rather dicey action and in the process demonstrate that reality is often more daring than the imagination of novelists.