Battle of Diamond Rock

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Coordinates: 14°26′35″N61°2′20″W / 14.44306°N 61.03889°W / 14.44306; -61.03889

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Battle of Diamond Rock
Part of the Trafalgar Campaign
Capture of Diamond Rock.jpg
The Franco-Spanish combined fleet under Captain Cosmao attacking Diamond Rock, by Auguste Mayer
Date31 May – 2 June 1805
Result Franco-Spanish victory
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British Empire

Flag of France (1794-1815).svg French Empire

Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Spanish Empire
Commanders and leaders
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg James Wilkes Maurice   White flag icon.svg Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Julien Cosmao
One stone frigate
107 men
3 × 24-pdrs
2 × 18-pdrs
Two ships of the line [1]
One frigate
One corvette
One schooner
11 gunboats
c. 400 soldiers
Casualties and losses
2 killed
1 wounded
105 prisoners
c. 50 killed and wounded
5 gunboats sunk

The Battle of Diamond Rock took place between 31 May and 2 June 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars. It was an attempt by Franco-Spanish force dispatched under Captain Julien Cosmao to retake Diamond Rock, at the entrance to the bay leading to Fort-de-France, from the British forces that had occupied it over a year before.

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

Julien Cosmao French admiral

Julien Marie Cosmao-Kerjulien was a French Navy officer, admiral, and hero of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Diamond Rock Island in Martinique, France

Diamond Rock is a 175-metre-high (574 ft) basalt island located south of "Grande Anse du Diamant" before arriving from the south at Fort-de-France, the main port of the Caribbean island of Martinique. The uninhabited island is about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from Pointe Diamant.

The French in Martinique had been unable to oust the defenders from the strategically important rock, and the British garrison was able to control access to Fort-de-France Bay, firing on ships attempting to enter it with guns they had placed on the cliffs. The arrival of a large combined Franco-Spanish fleet in May changed the strategic situation. The French commander, Pierre de Villeneuve, had vague orders to attack British possessions in the Caribbean, but instead waited at Martinique for clearer instructions. He was finally persuaded to authorise an assault on the British position, and a Franco-Spanish flotilla was dispatched to storm the rock. Already short of water, the defenders held on in the summit for several days, while the French, who had neglected to bring scaling ladders, could make little headway.

Martinique Overseas region and department in France

Martinique, also referred to as Matnik or Matinik in Martinican Creole) is an insular region of France located in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with a land area of 1,128 square kilometres (436 sq mi) and a population of 376,480 inhabitants as of January 2016. Like Guadeloupe, it is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. One of the Windward Islands, it is directly north of Saint Lucia, northwest of Barbados and south of Dominica.

Pierre-Charles Villeneuve French naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars

Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve was a French naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars. He was in command of the French and the Spanish fleets that were defeated by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Flotilla Formation of small warships that may be part of a larger fleet

A flotilla, or naval flotilla, is a formation of small warships that may be part of a larger fleet. A flotilla is usually composed of a homogeneous group of the same class of warship, such as frigates, destroyers, torpedo boats, submarines, gunboats, or minesweepers. Groups of larger warships are usually called squadrons, but similar units of non-capital ships may be called squadrons in some instances, and flotillas in others. Formations including more than one capital ships, e.g. men-of-war, battleships, and aircraft carriers, typically alongside smaller ships and support craft, are typically called fleets, each portion led by a capital ship being a squadron or task force.

The British, short of both water and ammunition, eventually negotiated the surrender of the rock after several days under fire. As Diamond Rock was legally considered a Royal Navy vessel, and the commander was legally "captain" of it, after repatriation, he was tried by court-martial (as the law dictated in any case where a captain loses his ship, regardless of the cause), but was honourably acquitted.

A court-martial or court martial is a military court or a trial conducted in such a court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment. In addition, courts-martial may be used to try prisoners of war for war crimes. The Geneva Convention requires that POWs who are on trial for war crimes be subject to the same procedures as would be the holding military's own forces. Finally, courts-martial can be convened for other purposes, such as dealing with violations of martial law, and can involve civilian defendants.


Diamond Rock is fortified

Diamond Rock had been fortified in January 1804 on the orders of Commodore Samuel Hood. Hood had been active in the West Indies, protecting British convoys from French privateers issuing out of the two major naval bases the French retained in the Caribbean, at Guadeloupe and Martinique. [2] The privateers had captured a number of valuable cargoes and were diverting British warships to protect the merchant fleets. Hood decided to blockade Martinique, and thus curtail the privateers and intercept supplies destined for the French garrison. [2] Patrolling off the bay at the southern end of the island, in which one of Martinique's two main ports, Fort-de-France, was located, Hood saw that if Diamond Rock could be occupied, it would allow the British to effectively control the shipping approaching the ports on the western side, as the currents around the island made the easiest approaches mean passing within sight of Diamond Rock. [3]

Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet Royal Navy admiral

Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet KB RN was an officer of the Royal Navy and the cousin once removed of the more famous Admiral Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood who sponsored Sir Samuel Hood and his younger brother Alexander Hood into the Royal Navy. He was elected a Member of Parliament for Westminster in 1806, together with Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Privateer private person or ship authorized by a government to attack foreign shipping

A privateer is a private person or ship that engages in maritime warfare under a commission of war. The commission, also known as a letter of marque, empowers the person to carry on all forms of hostility permissible at sea by the usages of war, including attacking foreign vessels during wartime and taking them as prizes. Historically, captured ships were subject to condemnation and sale under prize law, with the proceeds divided between the privateer sponsors, shipowners, captains and crew. A percentage share usually went to the issuer of the commission. Since robbery under arms was once common to seaborne trade, all merchant ships were already armed. During war, naval resources were auxiliary to operations on land so privateering was a way of subsidizing state power by mobilizing armed ships and sailors.

Guadeloupe Overseas region and department in France

Guadeloupe is an archipelago forming an overseas region of France in the Caribbean. It consists of six inhabited islands, Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre, Marie-Galante, La Désirade, and the Îles des Saintes, as well as many uninhabited islands and outcroppings. It lies south of Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat, and north of Dominica. Its capital is Basse-Terre on the west coast; however, the largest city is Pointe-à-Pitre.

A cannon is hauled up to the summit of the rock suspended by a cable lashed to the base of Centaur's mainmast Fort Diamond cannon.jpg
A cannon is hauled up to the summit of the rock suspended by a cable lashed to the base of Centaur's mainmast

Hood reconnoitered Diamond Rock and considered it excellently defensible, with the only possible landing site being on the western side. He wrote that 'thirty riflemen will keep the hill against ten thousand ... it is a perfect naval post.' [3] A party of men were landed on 7 January 1804, from Hood's flagship HMS Centaur, under the command of Centaur's first lieutenant James Wilkes Maurice. They promptly fortified the small cove they had landed at with their launch's 24-pounder, and established forges and artificers' workshops in a cave at the base of the rock. [3] After fixing ladders and ropes to scale the sheer sides of the rock, they were able to access the summit and began to establish messes and sleeping areas in a number of small caves. [4] Bats were driven out by burning bales of hay, and a space was cleared by blasting at the top of the rock in order to establish a battery. [4] In February a number of guns were transferred over from Centaur, with two 24-pounders being installed in a cave near sea level, another 24-pounder halfway up the rock, and two 18-pounders in the battery at the top. In addition to this the men had use of a number of boats, with one armed with a 24-pounder carronade, which were used to intercept enemy ships. [4]

HMS <i>Centaur</i> (1797) 1797 ship of the line

HMS Centaur was a 74-gun third rate of the Royal Navy, launched on 14 March 1797 at Woolwich. She served as Sir Samuel Hood's flagship in the Leeward Islands and the Channel. During her 22-year career Centaur saw action in the Mediterranean, the Channel, the West Indies, and the Baltic, fighting the French, the Dutch, the Danes, and the Russians. She was broken up in 1819.

Vice-Admiral James Wilkes Maurice was an officer of the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Unlike his contemporaries who won fame commanding ships, Maurice gained accolades for his command of a number of island fortresses.

Launch (boat) open motorboat

A launch is an open motorboat. The forward part of the launch may be covered. Prior to the era of engines on small craft, a launch was the largest boat carried on a sailing vessel, powered by sail or by oars. In competitive rowing, a launch is a motorized boat used by the coach during training.

Marshall's Naval Biography, when describing the process of hauling the guns to the summit, recorded that

Lieutenant Maurice having succeeded in scrambling up the side of the rock ..., and fastened one end of an 8-inch hawser to a pinnacle, the viol-block was converted into a traveller, with a purchase-block lashed thereto, and the other end of the hawser set up, as a jack-stay, round the Centaur's main-mast. The gun being slung to the viol, the purchase-fall was brought to the capstern. In this manner the desired object was effected in the course of a week, during which time Lieutenant Maurice and the working party on shore suffered most dreadfully from excessive heat and fatigue, being constantly exposed to the sun, and frequently obliged to lower themselves down over immense precipices to attend the ascent of the guns, and bear them off from the innumerable projections against which they swung whenever the ship took a shear... [5]

French reactions

Despite the vulnerability of both Centaur and the Rock to a French gunboat attack while the process of fortification was being carried out, the French neglected to act. The governor of Martinique, Louis Thomas Villaret de Joyeuse ordered work to begin on building a road to the coast opposite the rock, and the establishment of a battery there, but the British were forewarned by the black population of the island who were largely sympathetic to the British. [6] A party was sent onshore, which succeeded in capturing the engineer sent to construct the battery, and three of his men. Work on the battery was abandoned after further British raids on the area. [6]

HM Fort Diamond

By early February the guns had been installed and tested. The 18-pounders were able to completely command the passage between the rock and the island, forcing ships to avoid the channel. The winds and currents meant that these ships were then unable to enter the bay. [6] With work complete by 7 February Hood decided to formalise the administration of the island, and wrote to the Admiralty, announcing that he had commissioned the rock as a sloop, under the name Fort Diamond. [3] Lieutenant Maurice, who had impressed Hood with his efforts while establishing the position, was rewarded by being made commander. [3] Diamond Rock was to be considered a captured enemy ship, and was technically treated as a tender to one of the boats stationed there, commissioned by the Admiralty as the sloop Diamond Rock, superseding Hood's use of Fort Diamond. [3] This was a mere technicality, and when the boat fell into French hands, another replaced it, and in time the rock became known as the 'Sloop Diamond Rock'. [3] The batteries were also named, the two 18-pounders at the summit were known as 'Fort Diamond' or 'Diamond Battery', while the 24-pounder halfway up was known as 'Hood's Battery'. [7]

Life on the Rock

Picturesque Views of the Diamond Rock... A Lodgement under the Rock on the South-west Side Life on Diamond Rock.jpg
Picturesque Views of the Diamond Rock... A Lodgement under the Rock on the South-west Side

Maurice had a party of around 100 men under his command on the rock, with the usual officers found on a British warship, including a surgeon, purser, and a junior lieutenant to command the small supply vessel. [3] A hospital was established, and food, gunpowder and ammunition were brought to the rock in boats, at first from Centaur, and then from Martinique, where it was purchased from sympathetic inhabitants. [3] Water also had to be brought from the island, and large cisterns were built to store it. [4] The men on the rock ran the risk of falling from the heights or being bitten by the fer-de-lance, a venomous snake inhabiting the rock. [3]


First French assault

With the British presence on Diamond Rock firmly established, Hood departed with Centaur, and the French saw an opportunity to attack. [8] Four boatloads of soldiers were despatched at night, though the sailors who rowed there were extremely pessimistic as to their chances. Exhausted by the time they arrived at the rock, the men were not able to resist the pull of the strong current and were swept out to sea. They were eventually able to make it back to Martinique, with the British only learning of the attempt several days later. [8] The British could have easily sunk the French boats had the French made a daylight assault. Disheartened by their failure, the French made no further attempts to attack the fort from the island. [8] Maurice and his men devoted their time after this to raiding, cutting out ships from the Martinique coast, and interdicting trade. [9]

Villeneuve arrives

Diamond Rock in 2007 Diamond Rock.jpg
Diamond Rock in 2007

On 14 May 1805, seventeen months after the British occupied the island, a large French fleet arrived in Fort-de-France Bay, having briefly exchanged fire with the British on Diamond Rock as they did so. [9] The fleet, under Pierre de Villeneuve, was joined over the next few days by Spanish ships under Federico Gravina. As the Spanish ship San Rafael approached on 16 May, the British hoisted the French flag, luring the Spanish ship to pass close by. As she did so the British forces replaced the French colours with the British, and opened fire, taking the Spanish by surprise (such a false flag was considered a perfectly legitimate, indeed traditional, ruse de guerre during that era). [10] Shortly after this it was discovered that the main cistern, holding a month's supply of water, had cracked in some earth tremors, and the leak had been made worse by the vibration from the guns. [11] There was barely two weeks left, but fresh supplies were now unobtainable as a blockade of the rock began by a number of schooners, brigs and frigates. [11]

The combined fleet carried a large number of soldiers, intended by Napoleon to be used to attack British possessions in the Caribbean. Villeneuve felt however that his orders were not clear, and remained at Fort-de-France, hoping to be joined by a fleet under Honoré Ganteaume, which unbeknownst to him had been unable to break the blockade of Brest. [12] For two weeks Villeneuve lingered in the bay, until finally being persuaded by Villaret de Joyeuse to use his forces to capture Diamond Rock, a thorn in his side for the past seventeen months. [9] Villeneuve gave Captain Julien Cosmao of the 74-gun Pluton command of the expedition. He was to take his ship, the 74-gun Berwick, the 36-gun Sirène, a corvette, schooner, eleven gunboats, and between three and four hundred soldiers (in addition to the ships' crews), and retake the rock. [13] [14]

Final Assault

A collection of portraits of those involved in the establishment, operation and defence of Diamond Rock. Centre, top row, is Captain Murray Maxwell, commanding officer of HMS Centaur. Second from left, top row, is James Maurice, commander of the rock. His name is spelt here 'Morris'. Diamond Rock portraits.jpg
A collection of portraits of those involved in the establishment, operation and defence of Diamond Rock. Centre, top row, is Captain Murray Maxwell, commanding officer of HMS Centaur. Second from left, top row, is James Maurice, commander of the rock. His name is spelt here 'Morris'.

The flotilla left their anchorage on 29 May, but were not able to work into a position to attack windward of the rock until 31 May. [10] [13] Lieutenant Maurice assessed the overwhelming strength of the French, and having decided that it would be impossible to hold the lower stages, spiked the guns covering the landing stage, scuttled the launch, and withdrew his forces to defend the upper levels. Four Spanish gunboats from the ships San Rafael, Argonauta, España and Firme participated in the attack, with a Spanish gunboat being the first to disembark troops on the rock under fire from the British positions. [10] [16] Cosmao began an intense bombardment while the infantry forced their way onto the landing stage, losing three gunboats and two rowing boats full of soldiers as they did so. [10] The attacking force had however neglected to bring any scaling ladders, and could not assault the sheer rock sides. [13] Instead they were forced to besiege the British forces in the upper levels. By 2 June, with his ammunition almost exhausted and water supplies running critically short, Maurice opened negotiations. [17]

At four o'clock that afternoon flag of truce was displayed and a senior French officer was dispatched in a schooner to offer terms. By 5 pm. Maurice had agreed to surrender Diamond Rock, the officers were to retain their swords and the men would remain under their orders. [17] They were to be taken to Fort-de-France, and from there repatriated to a British settlement at the first opportunity, under parole. With these terms agreed, the British surrendered Diamond Rock. [17] The British had two men killed and one man wounded in the battle. [17] French casualties were harder to judge, Maurice estimated they amounted to seventy, the French commander of the landing force made a 'hasty calculation' of fifty. [17] In addition to this the British had sunk five large boats, and potentially inflicted further casualties during the bombardment of the French warships. [17] Maurice and his men were taken off the rock on the morning of 6 June and put on board the Pluton and Berwick. [18]


Maurice was returned to Barbados by 6 June, and sent a letter dated that day to Horatio Nelson, who had recently arrived in the Caribbean in search of Villeneuve's fleet. [13]

My Lord
IT is with the greatest sorrow I have to inform you of the loss of the Diamond Rock, under my command, which was obliged to surrender on the 2d ist., after three days' attack from a squadron of two sail of the line, one frigate, one brig, a schooner, eleven gun-boats and, from the nearest calculation, 1500 troops. The want of ammunition and water was the sole occasion of its unfortunate loss.... [our losses were] only two killed and one wounded. The enemy, from the nearest account I have been able to obtain, lost on shore 30 killed and 40 wounded: they also lost three gun-boats and two rowing boats. [13]

Naval procedure at the time was that all commanders who lost their ships automatically faced a court martial. Accordingly, Maurice was tried by a court martial convened aboard the 28-gun HMS Circe in Carlisle Bay on 24 June. [9] Maurice was honourably acquitted for the loss, the verdict noting

the Court is of the opinion that Captain J. W. Maurice, the Officers and Company of His Majesty's late sloop Diamond Rock did every thing in their power to the very last, in the defence of the Rock, and against a most superior force ... [Maurice] did not surrender the Diamond until he was unable to make further defence for want of water and ammunition, the Court do therefore honourably acquit Captain Maurice accordingly. [13]

Villeneuve had retaken the rock, but the day the attack began the frigate Didon had arrived with orders from Napoleon. [13] Villeneuve was ordered to take his force and attack British possessions, before returning in force to Europe, hopefully having in the meantime been joined by Ganteaume's fleet. But by now his supplies were so low that he could attempt little more than harassing some of the smaller British islands. [14] Anti-French feelings grew in the Spanish commander Don Federico Gravina after the capture of the Diamond Rock. Gravina wanted to invade the island of Trinidad, under British rule since its capture from the Spanish a couple of years before. Villeneuve left Fort-de-France on 5 June, and on 7 June two French frigates sighted a convoy of 16 British merchants, and Villeneuve signalled general chase. The Spanish 80-gun ship of the line Argonauta and the two frigates chased down and captured fifteen of the sixteen merchants. The convoy was laden with sugar, rum, coffee, cotton and other products. From them he learnt that Nelson had arrived in the West Indies, in hot pursuit of Villeneuve. Shocked, Villeneuve abandoned his plans to raid the British colonies and immediately began preparations for the return voyage. [13] The fleet got under-way on 11 June, causing one of the army officers attached to the fleet, General Honoré Charles Reille, to note:

We have been masters of the sea for three weeks with a landing force of 7000 to 8000 men and have not been able to attack a single island. [13]

The capture of Diamond Rock and the seizing of 15 merchant ships were the only successes that the combined fleet had during their Caribbean campaign. [13] The rock remained in French hands until the capture of Martinique in 1809. [19]


  1. Trafalgar Campaign: The Atlantic and the West Indies Rickard, J. Military History Encyclopedia on the Web.
  2. 1 2 Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. 126.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. 127.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. 128.
  5. Tracy. Who's who in Nelson's Navy. p. 245.
  6. 1 2 3 Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. 129.
  7. Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. pp. 154–5.
  8. 1 2 3 Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. 131.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Adkin. The Trafalgar Companion. p. 49.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Henderson. Frigates, Sloops and Brigs. p. 302.
  11. 1 2 Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. 154.
  12. Adkin. The Trafalgar Companion. p. 45.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Adkin. The Trafalgar Companion. p. 51.
  14. 1 2 Terraine. Trafalgar. p. 82.
  15. Lavery. Nelson's navy. p. 94.
  16. Miguel Agustin Principe. Narration of the Peninsular war, Madrid 1842–1847. Historical Narration, Vol. 1. p. 319.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Henderson. Frigates, Sloops and Brigs. p. 303.
  18. Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. 157.
  19. Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. 327.

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Neptuno was an 80-gun Montañes-class ship of the line of the Spanish Navy. She was built in 1795 and took part in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. She fought with the Franco-Spanish fleet in the battle of Trafalgar, and was wrecked in its aftermath.

HMS <i>Emerald</i> (1795) frigate of the Royal Navy, in service 1795-1836

HMSEmerald was a 36-gun Amazon-class frigate that Sir William Rule designed in 1794 for the Royal Navy. The Admiralty ordered her construction towards the end of May 1794 and work began the following month at Northfleet dockyard. She was completed on 12 October 1795 and joined Admiral John Jervis's fleet in the Mediterranean.