Action of 25 January 1797

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Action of 25 January 1797
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
Asis frigates.jpg
Battle between San Francisco de Asís and three British frigates and a corvette. Oil on canvas. Naval Museum of Madrid.
Date25 January 1797
Result Spanish victory [ dubious ]
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg  Spain
Commanders and leaders
George Stewart, 8th Earl of Galloway Alonso de Torres y Guerra
3 fifth-rate frigates,
1 sixth-rate sloop [1]
1 third-rate ship of line [1]
Casualties and losses
Unknown 2 killed & 12 wounded
1 ship slightly damaged [2]

The Action of 25 January 1797 was a minor naval battle of the French Revolutionary Wars, fought in the Gulf of Cádiz. The Spanish third-rate ship of the line San Francisco de Asís was attacked and pursued for several hours by a British squadron of three fifth-rates frigates and a sixth-rate corvette under George Stewart, 8th Earl of Galloway. After an intermittent but fierce exchange of fire, the British warships, badly damaged, were eventually forced to withdraw. [1] [ better source needed ] The San Francisco de Asís, which suffered only minor damage, was able to return to Cádiz without difficulties. The commander of the ship, Captain Alonso de Torres y Guerra, was promoted for his success.

French Revolutionary Wars series of conflicts fought between the French Republic and several European monarchies from 1792 to 1802

The French Revolutionary Wars were a series of sweeping military conflicts lasting from 1792 until 1802 and resulting from the French Revolution. They pitted France against Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia and several other monarchies. They are divided in two periods: the War of the First Coalition (1792–97) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802). Initially confined to Europe, the fighting gradually assumed a global dimension. After a decade of constant warfare and aggressive diplomacy, France had conquered a wide array of territories, from the Italian Peninsula and the Low Countries in Europe to the Louisiana Territory in North America. French success in these conflicts ensured the spread of revolutionary principles over much of Europe.

Gulf of Cádiz arm of the Atlantic Ocean off Spain and Portugal

The Gulf of Cádiz is the arm of the Atlantic Ocean between Cabo de Santa Maria, the southernmost point of Mainland Portugal and Cape Trafalgar at the western end of the Strait of Gibraltar. Two major rivers, the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana, as well as smaller rivers, like the Odiel, the Tinto, and the Guadalete, reach the ocean here.

Ship of the line type of naval warship constructed from the 17th through to the mid-19th century

A ship of the line was a type of naval warship constructed from the 17th through to the mid-19th century. The ship of the line was designed for the naval tactic known as the line of battle, which depended on the two columns of opposing warships maneuvering to fire with the cannons along their broadsides. In conflicts where opposing ships were both able to fire from their broadsides, the side with more cannons—and therefore more firepower—typically had an advantage. Since these engagements were almost invariably won by the heaviest ships carrying the most powerful guns, the natural progression was to build sailing vessels that were the largest and most powerful of their time.



The winter of 1796–1797 was one of the stormiest of the 18th century. [1] The British Royal Navy lost the ships of line HMS Courageux, wrecked off Gibraltar, and HMS Bombay Castle, foundered in the shoals of the Tagus river's mouth, as well as two frigates. [2] A French expedition sent to Ireland to assist the rebel United Irishmen against the British government failed due to the storms. The Spanish navy also suffered the effects of the winter. The third-rate ship of the line San Francisco de Asís, commanded by Captain Don Alonso de Torres y Guerra, which was anchored in the Bay of Cádiz during a mission to protect the arrival of Spanish commercial shipping from America, was hit by the storms, and having lost her anchor, she was forced to go out to open sea. [2]

Gibraltar British Overseas Territory

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. It has an area of 6.7 km2 (2.6 sq mi) and is bordered to the north by Spain. The landscape is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar at the foot of which is a densely populated town area, home to over 30,000 people, primarily Gibraltarians.

HMS Bombay Castle was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 14 June 1782 at Blackwall Yard. She grounded on 21 December 1796 in the shoals of the Tagus River's mouth.

Tagus Longest river in the Iberian Peninsula

The Tagus is the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. It is 1,007 km (626 mi) long, 716 km (445 mi) in Spain, 47 km (29 mi) along the border between Portugal and Spain and 275 km (171 mi) in Portugal, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon. It drains an area of 80,100 square kilometers (30,927 sq mi). The Tagus is highly utilized for most of its course. Several dams and diversions supply drinking water to places of central Spain and Portugal, while dozens of hydroelectric stations create power. Between dams it follows a very constricted course, but after Almourol it enters a wide alluvial valley, prone to flooding. Its mouth is a large estuary near the port city of Lisbon.

Spain and Britain, which had been allies against the Revolutionary France until the Peace of Basel and had cooperated in the Siege of Toulon (1793), became enemies when Spain aligned itself with France by Second Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796. The British navy, on the outbreak of the war, withdrew from the Mediterranean Sea and was stationed in the Iberian Atlantic coast, from Cape Finisterre to Gibraltar. [3] Sir John Jervis, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, took its base at Lisbon, having been ordered by the Admiralty to focus on "taking every opportunity of annoying the enemy", asides of protecting the British trade and cutting Spain from its colonies. [4] Among the British ships based in Lisbon, there was a division under the Earl of Galloway which comprised the frigates Lively , Niger and Meleager , and the sloops Fortune and Raven . [5] According to Sir John Barrow, 1st Baronet, Second Secretary to the Admiralty for 40 years, Galloway, later known as Lord Garlies, was "an excellent man, but of a warm and sanguine temperament". [6]

Peace of Basel peace treaty

The Peace of Basel of 1795 consists of three peace treaties involving France during the French Revolution.

The Second Treaty of San Ildefonso was signed on 19 August 1796 between Spain and the First French Republic. Based on the terms of the agreement, France and Spain would become allies and combine their forces against the British Empire.

Mediterranean Sea Sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean between Europe, Africa and Asia

The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the Mediterranean Basin and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Southern Europe and Anatolia, on the south by North Africa and on the east by the Levant. Although the sea is sometimes considered a part of the Atlantic Ocean, it is usually identified as a separate body of water. Geological evidence indicates that around 5.9 million years ago, the Mediterranean was cut off from the Atlantic and was partly or completely desiccated over a period of some 600,000 years before being refilled by the Zanclean flood about 5.3 million years ago.


George Stewart as a post-captain. Watercolour on ivory by Anne Mee. George Stewart 8th Earl of Galloway.jpg
George Stewart as a post-captain. Watercolour on ivory by Anne Mee.

At dawn on 25 January, the three frigates and one sloop of Galloway's division were sighted from the San Francisco de Asís sailing north-eastwards at a distance of 11 leagues from the port of Cádiz, parallel to the city. [7] The lack of response to the signals of recognition made from the Spanish ship put on alert its crew. [7] The British ships began to come close to the San Francisco de Asís relying on their lightness and their advantage, both in number and in artillery, as the division's ships mounted 40 pieces each of the two heaviest frigates, 34 the lesser one, and 28 the sloop. [7] Minerve and Meleager were armed, moreover, with 24-pounder carronades. [5]

At 1 pm the British division had approached enough to open fire on the San Francisco, who had hoisted its flag, ready to engage Galloway's ships, [7] which also hoisted their British flags. [7] The San Francisco then opened fire, and a running battle ensued without intermission until 4 pm. In the process, the San Francisco received the fire of two British frigates which successively shot him with grapeshot. [7] The Spanish ship could only return the fire with the stern chasers of its batteries, although she luffed occasionally to shoot broadsides on the British frigates, inflicting serious damage. [7] The British gunners, noted for their skill through the war, were not particularly accurate during the action, and San Francisco, already hit by the storm, didn't suffer serious damage. [5]

Grapeshot type of ammunition shooting mutliple small balls

In artillery, grapeshot is a projectile that is not one solid element, but a geometric arrangement of round shot packed tightly into a canvas bag and separated from the gunpowder charge by a metal disk of full bore diameter. It was used both in land and naval warfare. When assembled, the shot resembled a cluster of grapes, hence the name. On firing, the balls spread out from the muzzle, giving an effect similar to a giant shotgun.

Chase gun cannon mounted in the bow or stern of a sailing ship

A chase gun, usually distinguished as bow chaser and stern chaser was a cannon mounted in the bow or stern of a sailing ship. They were used to attempt to slow down an enemy ship either chasing (pursuing) or being chased, when the ship's broadside could not be brought to bear. Typically, the chasers were used to attempt to damage the rigging and thereby cause the target to lose performance.

The British frigates left the battle at 4 pm, and although after consulting among themselves the British commanders resolved return to fight at 4:30 pm, they finally withdrew half an hour later. [7] [ dubious ] The imminence of the nightfall and the possibility of running aground on the coast between Huelva and Ayamonte convinced Alonso de Torres y Guerra to turn back to Cádiz instead of chasing Galloway's division, but trying before to sail between the retreating British ships to shoot upon them two complete broadsides. The British vessels, however, managed to avoid the action by taking advantage of its fasteness and the darkness of the dusk. [7]

Huelva Municipality in Andalusia, Spain

Huelva is a city in southwestern Spain, the capital of the province of Huelva in the autonomous community of Andalusia. It is located along the Gulf of Cádiz coast, in the estuary formed by the confluence of the Odiel and Tinto rivers. According to the 2010 census, the city had a population of 149,410. Huelva is home to Recreativo de Huelva, the oldest football club in Spain.

Ayamonte Municipality in Andalusia, Spain

Ayamonte is a town and municipality located in the province of Huelva, (Spain) near the Guadiana River. According to the 2015 census, the city had a population of 20,357 inhabitants.


Rescue of the Santisima Trinidad at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, by Antonio de Brugada Vila (1804-1863). CombateDeSanVicenteElNavioPelayoAcudeEnAuxilioDelNavioSantisimaTrinidad.jpg
Rescue of the Santísima Trinidad at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, by Antonio de Brugada Vila (1804–1863).

The San Francisco de Asís had 2 men killed and 12 wounded in the action. She received a shot at the mainyard, another one awash, and minor damage to the rigging and the hull. The ship had been repaired when, on 14 February, it took part in the Battle of Cape St Vincent. The British fleet, commanded by John Jervis, was victorious over the Spanish fleet under José de Córdoba y Ramos. The San Francisco played a role in the battle, helping at the end of the action to relieve the three-decker Santísima Trinidad , which had been put out of action and was about to be taken by the British fleet. [5] The damage and casualties aboard the British division remain unknown, and the action is not mentioned in English sources, [5] [ additional citation(s) needed ] though the Spanish naval historian Cesáreo Fernández Duro states that one of Galloway's frigates lost its foretopmast. [2]

A success by ship of line fighting alone against a squadron of well armed frigates was not common during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. [8] For example, in the Action of 8 March 1795, the 74-gun HMS Berwick was captured in just 15 minutes by the French frigate Alceste , supported by the frigates Minerve and Vestale . [8] As a reward for his victory, Captain Alonso de Torres y Guerra was given the encomienda of Corral de Caracuel in the Order of Alcántara, which included, asides of the title of knight, an income of 15.800 reales. [5] On the other hand, Galloway's career wasn't damaged by the result of the action, and he was chosen by Admiral Jervis to carry back to England news of the victory of St Vincent. [9]


  1. 1 2 3 4 San Juan p. 84.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Fernández Duro p. 82.
  3. Black, Jeremy: The British Seaborne Empire. Bury St Edmunds: Yale University Press, 2004. ISBN   9780300103861, p. 150.
  4. Robson, Martin: Britain, Portugal and South America in the Napoleonic Wars: Alliances and Diplomacy in Economic Maritime Conflict. London: Palgrave Macillan, 2010. ISBN   9780857718846, pp. 36–37.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Rodríguez González, Agustín Ramón: Dos combates afortunados en circunstancias desesperadas . In Revista General de Marina. June 2013, p. 792.
  6. Barrow, John (Sir): An auto-biographical memoir of Sir John Barrow, Late of the Admiralty: including reflections, observations, and reminiscences at home and abroad, from early life to advanced age . London: John Murray, 1847, p. 278.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Gaceta de Madrid: no 11, p. 105. 7 February 1797
  8. 1 2 Rodríguez González, p. 793.
  9. Anderson, William: The Scottish nation: or, The surnames, families, literature, honours, and biographical history of the people of Scotland , Vol. II. Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & co., 1867, p. 278.

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