An All Night Sea Fight

Ye sons of Mars, come list to me,
And I will relate to ye
A great and heroic naval fight,
Which will fill your hearts with delight.

The fight was between the French Frigate “Pique” and the British Frigate “Blanche,”
But the British crew were bold and staunch;
And the battle was fought in West Indian waters in the year of 1795,
And for to gain the victory the French did nobly strive.

And on the morning of the 4th of January while cruising off Gadulope,
The look-out man from the foretop loudly spoke,
And cried, “Sail ahoy!” “Where away ?”
“On the lee bow, close in shore, sir,” was answered without delay.

Then Captain Faulkner cried, “Clear the decks!”
And the French vessel with his eyeglass he inspects;
And he told his men to hoist the British flag,
And “prepare my heroes to pull down that French rag.”

Then the “Blanche” made sail and bore away
In the direction of the “Pique” without delay;
And Captain Faulkner cried, “Now, my lads, bear down on him,
And make ready quickly and begin.”

It was about midnight when the Frenchman hove in sight,
And could be seen distinctly in the starlight;
And for an hour and a half they fired away
Broadsides into each other without dismay.

And with the rapid flashes the Heavens were aflame,
As each volley from the roaring cannons came;
And the incessant roll of musketry was awful to hear,
As it broke over the silent sea and smote upon the ear.

The French vessel had nearly 400 men,
Her decks were literally crowded from stem to stern;
And the musketeers kept up a fierce fire on the ” Blanche,”
But still the “Blanche” on them did advance.

And the “Blanche’s” crew without dismay
Fired a broadside into the “Pique” without delay,
Which raked her fore and aft, and knocked her to smash,
And the mizzen mast fell overboard with a terrible crash.

Then the Frenchmen rushed forward to board the “Blanche,”
But in doing so they had a very poor chance,
For the British Tars in courage didn’t lack,
Because thrice in succession on their own deck they were driven back.

Then “Brave, my lads!” Captain Faulkner loudly cries,
“Lash her bowsprit to our capstan, she’s our prize”;
And he seized some ropes to lash round his foe,
But a musket ball pierced his heart and laid him low.

Then a yell of rage burst from the noble crew,
And near to his fallen body they drew;
And tears for his loss fell fast on the deck,
Their grief was so great their tears they couldn’t check.

The crew was very sorry for their captain’s downfall,
But the sight didn’t their brave hearts appal;
Because they fastened the ropes to the “Pique” at the capstan,
And the “Pique” was dragged after the “Blanche,” the sight was grand.

Yet the crew of the “Pique” maintained the fight,
Oh! most courageously they fought in the dead of night;
And for two hours they kept up firing without dismay,
But it was a sacrifice of human life, they had to give way.

And about five o’clock in the morning the French cried for quarter,
Because on board there had been a great slaughter;
Their Captain Consail was mortally wounded in the fight
Along with many officers and men; oh! it was a heartrending sight
To see the wounded and dead weltering in their gore
After the cannonading had ceased and the fighting was o’er.

Extract of a Letter from Vice- Admiral Caldwell to Mr. Stephens, dated of Martinique, the 11th of January, 1795.

For the Information of my Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty, I enclose Two Copies of Letters received from Lieutenant Watkins, of the Blanche, with Minutes of Mr. Milne, her Second Lieutenant,’ who came to me Express, giving an Account of their taking the French Frigate La Pique, of 38 Guns, and 360 Men, after an Action of Five Hours, as brilliant and decided as ever happened; nor can too much Praise and Commendation be given to all the Officers and Ship’s Company. Their Lordships will see by the Minutes, the judicious Manner in which the Blanche laid the Enemy on Board, and twice lashed her Bowsprit to the Blanche’s Capstern, and, when the former’s Main and Mizzen Masts fell, she payed off before the Wind, and towed the Enemy; when the Stern Ports, not being large enough, they blew the upper Transom Beam away to admit the Guns to run out, and fired into her Bows for Three Hours. The Marines, under Lieutenant Richardson,  keeping so well directed and constant a Fire, that not a Man could appear upon her Forecastle until she struck, when the Second Lieutenant and Ten Men swam on Board, and took Possession of her.

Captain Faulknor was unfortunately killed after Two Hours Action, by which His Majesty has lost an Officer as truly meritorious as the Navy of England ever had.

P.S. It appears, by a recent Account, there were many more than 360 Men on Board La Pique; One Hundred and Seventy-four are brought here, One Hundred and Ten wounded, and landed at the Saints, Seventy-six found dead on Board when she was taken Possession of: It is probable some were thrown overboard during the Action, and it is known Numbers fell with her Three Masts, and were drowned.

Copy of a Letter from Lieutenant Frederick Watkins, First Lieutenant of His Majesty’s Ship Blanche, to Vice-Admiral Caldwell, dated Isle de Saints, 5th of January, 1795.

SIR,
I take the earliest Opportunity of informing you of my Arrival here in His Majesty’s Ship Blanche, with La Pique, a Frigate of 38 Guns, belonging to the National Convention of France, which Captain Faulknor brought to Action at a Quarter past Twelve A. M. Mariegalante bearing East Half South, Three Miles.

It is with the utmost Regret I have to inform you that he fell in the Action. In him His Majesty lost a brave and gallant Officer, which I most sincerely lament, as must every one who knew his Merit.

I cannot sufficiently express my Thanks to Lieutenants Milne and Pricket, also the other Officers and Ship’s Company, for their cool determined Bravery on the Occasion ; and am happy to add that she struck her Colours at a Quarter past Five A. M.

From the best Informaion I have been able to obtain the Enemy had 360 Men on Board when we brought her to Action, and I have great Reason to suppose her Loss to be about 76 killed and 110 wounded.

Inclosed I have the Honour of sending you the Return of Killed and Wounded on Board His Majesty’s Ship Blanche.

I have the Honour to be, &c.
FREDERICK WATKINS,
First Lieutenant.

Killed.

Captain Robert Faulknor.
Mr. William Bolton, Midshipman.
Five Seamen and One private Marine.

Wounded.

Mr. Charles Herbert, Midshipman.
Isaac Hutchinson, Quarter-Master.
Philip Griffiths, ditto.
William Fletcher, Armourer.
George Dice, Serjeant of Marines.
Twelve Seamen and Four private Marines.

London Gazette, 10th February 1795

Notes

The following account of this action is drawn from Volume 2 of “British Battles on Land and Sea” by James Grant, published in the 1870’s.

One of the most spirited of the many gallant actions between frigates, during our long war with France, was that fought between the Blanche, a British twelve-pounder thirty-two-gun frigate, commanded by Captain Robert Faulknor, and the Pique, a French thirty-six-gun frigate, Captain Conseil, off the Isle of Guadaloupe, in 1795.

The captain of the Blanche, when serving at the capture of Martinique, was tried by a court-martial (but acquitted) for killing one of his quarter-masters for disobedience during the engagement. He was the son of Captain Robert Faulknor, who took Le Courageux, 74 guns, In 1761.

About daybreak on the morning of the 4th of January, the Blanche discovered the Pique lying at anchor just outside the harbour of Pointe-à-Pitre, the commercial emporium of Guadeloupe, on the south-west coast of the Grands Terre district.

At seven a.m. the Pique got under weigh, and began to make an offing by letting fall her topsails; backing the mizzen occasionally to keep near a schooner which accompanied her. At half-past eight the Blanche cleared away for action, and made sail to meet them both, until nearly within gun-shot of Fort Fleur d’Espée, when, finding the Pique disinclined to leave the cover of its batteries, the Blanche which had been defiantly hove-to, made sail to board a second schooner, which was seen running along the well-wooded shore of Grande Terre.

At half-past twelve, when the two frigates were about three miles apart, the Pique filled her yards and made sail towards the Blanche, which shortly after had brought-to the schooner. The latter proved to be an American, with wine and brandy, from Bordeaux, and bound to Pointe-à-Pitre, which, with all the Isle of Guadeloupe, was then in our possession. Taking the schooner in tow, the Blanche steered towards the Saintes, a group of rocky isles that lie between Guadeloupe and Dominica.

At two in the afternoon the Piquecrossed the Blanche on the opposite tack, and, displaying the tricolour, fired four shotted guns. Considering this as a deliberate challenge, the British frigate fired a single shot to windward. At half-past two, when the sky was bright and the sea smooth, finding that the Pique was standing towards her, the Blanche shortened sail, as if awaiting her; but at half-past three the former tacked and stood away.

Tired of this coquetting, and hoping to induce the Pique to follow him, Captain Faulknor, an officer of bravery and experience, trimmed his ship under her topsails and courses, and stood away towards Marie-Galante (one of the Little Antilles), the brown barren mountains of which were barely visible at the horizon. At seven p.m., observing the Pique still lingering under Grande Terre, Captain Faulknor wore his ship and stood towards Dominica. An hour after the French frigate was descried astern, about six miles distant, standing in pursuit of the Blanche, which instantly cast off the American schooner she had in tow, and, tacking, made all sail to close with her.

Midnight had barely passed when the Blanche, on the starboard tack, passed under the lee of the Pique, which was then on the port tack, when every rope and spar could be seen distinctly under the clear starry light of a West Indian sky. The ships exchanged broadsides in passing, but they were as yet too far apart to do damage.

At half-past twelve, having got nearly in the long white wake of her antagonist, the Blanche tacked suddenly; and before one o’clock on the morning of the 5th, when within musket-shot of the starboard quarter of the Pique, the latter wore, i.e., turned her head away from the wind, with the intention of crossing her opponent’s bows and raking her ahead. To prevent this, Captain Faulknor gave orders to “wear ship” also; and then the two frigates, in the first hour of the morning, became closely engaged, broadside to broadside.

The Blanche, after lighting her guns for an hour and a half, shot ahead, and was in the act of luffing up to port to rake the Pique ahead, when the main and mitten masts of the former, having been wounded, went crashing over her side to leeward. The Pique next ran foul of the Blanche’s larboard quarter, and made several attempts to board. These the British crew resisted with success; and the larboard quarter-deck guns, and such of the main-deck guns as could be brought to bear, were fired with terrible effect into the Pique’s starboard bow

Meanwhile the small-arm men of the latter, perched in the tops and lower rigging, were blazing away in the starlight, while a fire was returned from some of her quarter-deck guns run in amidships, fore and aft. Amid this truly infernal scene of destruction, the carnage, in a space so small, was very great; and at three in the morning, while assisting with his own hands Second Lieutenant Milne and others of the crew to lash with such ropes as were at hand the bowsprit of the Pique to the capstan of the Blanche, so that escape should be impossible, preparatory to a more secure fastening by means of a hawser, a musket-shot pierced the heart of the young and gallant Faulknor, who fell to rise no more.

On the death of the captain becoming known, a yell came from the crew of the frigate, and more resolutely and grimly than ever did they work their guns to avenge him.

Soon after his fall the lashings broke loose, but the Pique again fell foul of the Blanche upon her starboard quarter. In an instant, with cheers of triumph and derision, the British sailors lashed her bowsprit to the stump of their own mainmast. Clutched in this fashion, the Pique was towed before the wind by her resolute enemy, now commanded by Lieutenant Frederick Watkins, afterwards Captain of the Néréide, and the captor of Curaçao. Again and again, with axe and cutlass, did the Frenchmen seek to slash through this second lashing; but standing shoulder to shoulder the marines of the Blanche poured a storm of bullets on the spot and swept them away.

The fire of musketry that came from the forecastle and tops of the Pique, together with that of her quarter-deck guns levelled forward, proved very destructive to the Blanche, which was without stern ports on the main deck. In vain had her carpenters striven to cut down the upper transom beam, so no altemative remained but to blow it away by dint of cannon-shot. Bucket in hand, the firemen were summoned to the cabin, where the captain lay dead and still amid the roar of conflict about him, and two guns were levelled against the stern frame.

This discharge made a clear breach on both sides of the rudder-case, and the firemen soon extinguished the blaze it had occasioned in the woodwork; and thus two twelve-pounders from an unexpected point played havoc along the deck of the Pique.

At a quarter-past three in the morning the mainmast of the French frigate (her fore and mizzen masts having previously come down) fell over the side. In this utterly defenceless state, without a gun which, on account of the wreck of her masts, she could now bring to bear, the Pique sustained the raking fire of the Blanche until quarter-past five a.m., when some of the French crew from the bowsprit-end called aloud for quarter. “The Blanche,” continues James, in his Naval History, “immediately ceased her fire; and every boat in both vessels having been destroyed by shot, Lieutenant Milne, followed by ten seamen, endeavoured to reach the prize by means of the hawser that still held her, but their weight bringing the bight of the rope down in the water, they had to swim a part of the distance.”

So ended this most spirited and gallant duel between these two frigates.

Besides her thirty-two long twelve and six pounders, the Blanche mounted six eighteen-pounders; and having sent away in prizes two master’s mates and twelve seamen, had on board only 198 men and boys. Of these she lost Captain Faulknor, Midshipman Bolton, and six seamen killed, and twenty-one wounded.

The Pique had two carriage-guns, six-pound carronades, less than her complement, thirty-eight in all; but along her gunnel were a number of brass swivels. The strength of her crew is variously given. Vice-Admiral Benjamin Caldweli states it at more than 360, while the French affirm it to have been no more than 360; however, “head money ” was paid for 265 men taken. The Pique had, it appears, 76 officers and men killed, and 110 wounded, “a loss,” says James, “unparalleled in its proportion.”

Among the wounded mortally was Captain Conseil, of the Pique, which, it must be admitted, her crew fought in a most gallant manner, only surrendering when their ship was a defenceless hulk, and themselves reduced to a third of their original number. “On the part of the British officers and crew,” savs our naval historian, “consummate intrepidity was displaved from the beginning to the end of this long and sanguinary battle. Indeed, a spirit of chivalry seems to have animated both parties; and the action of the Blanche and Pique may be pointed to with credit by either.” The master of the former frigate, David Milne, was afterwards captain of La Seine (as her name imports, a prize), and captured, after a gallant action, La Vengeance, a French frigate of fifty guns.

The Blanche was afterwards totally lost, in the year 1799, when conveying troops from the Helder.

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Comments (1) »

  1. Colin Campbell
    In the year 2016, on the 18th day of July at 9:36 pm

    I like the way McGonagall uses grand at least 5 times in every poem.

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