The frigate action of 29 May 1794—not to be confused with the much larger fleet action of 29 May 1794 that took place in the same waters at the same time—was a minor naval engagement of the French Revolutionary Wars between a Royal Navy frigate and a French Navy frigate. The action formed a minor part of the Atlantic campaign of May 1794, a campaign which culminated in the battle of the Glorious First of June, and was unusual in that the French ship Castor had only been in French hands for a few days at the time of the engagement. Castor had previously been a British ship, seized on 19 May by a French battle squadron in the Bay of Biscay and converted to French service while still at sea. While the main fleets manoeuvered around one another, Castor was detached in pursuit of a Dutch merchant ship and on 29 May encountered the smaller independently cruising British frigate HMS Carysfort.
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 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.
The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.
A frigate is a type of warship, having various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.
Captain Francis Laforey on Carysfort immediately attacked the larger ship and in an engagement lasting an hour and fifteen minutes successfully forced its captain to surrender, discovering a number of British prisoners of war below decks. Castor was subsequently taken back to Britain and an extended legal case ensued between the Admiralty and Captain Laforey over the amount of prize money that should be awarded for the victory. Ultimately Laforey was successful, in part due to testimony from the defeated French captain, proving his case and claiming the prize money. The lawsuit did not harm Laforey's career and he later served at the Battle of Trafalgar and became a prominent admiral.
Admiral Sir Francis Laforey, 2nd Baronet, KCB was an officer of the British Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, whose distinguished service record included numerous frigate commands in Home waters and in the West Indies. He is best known however for his service in command of the ship of the line Spartiate at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. During the action, Laforey was heavily engaged and his ship suffered heavy casualties. Five years after Trafalgar, Laforey was promoted to rear-admiral and commanded the Leeward Islands squadron, before retiring in 1814.
The Admiralty, originally known as the Office of the Admiralty and Marine Affairs, was the government department responsible for the command of the Royal Navy first in the Kingdom of England, later in the Kingdom of Great Britain, and from 1801 to 1964, the United Kingdom and former British Empire. Originally exercised by a single person, the Lord High Admiral (1385–1628), the Admiralty was, from the early 18th century onwards, almost invariably put "in commission" and exercised by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who sat on the Board of Admiralty.
Prize money has a distinct meaning in warfare, especially naval warfare, where it was a monetary reward paid out under prize law to the crew of a ship for capturing or sinking an enemy vessel. The claims for the bounty are usually heard in a Prize Court.
During the spring of 1794, the newly declared French Republic faced famine. In an effort to secure the required food supplies, large quantities were ordered from the French American colonies and from the United States, which gathered in a large convoy of merchant vessels off Hampton Roads in Virginia.On 2 April the convoy sailed for Europe under Contre-Admiral Pierre Vanstabel, expecting to meet a squadron under Contre-Admiral Joseph-Marie Nielly en route while the main French Atlantic Fleet under Contre-Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse held off the British Channel Fleet under Lord Howe. On 6 May, Nielly's ships sailed from Rochefort and soon passed out of the Bay of Biscay and into the Central Atlantic, where they encountered a British convoy sailing from Newfoundland. The convoy was unprepared for the encounter, and escorted only by the frigate HMS Castor under Captain Thomas Troubridge. Nielly, whose squadron included five ships of the line and several smaller warships, ordered an attack on the convoy and after a brief chase ten merchant ships were captured and Castor was run down by the ship of the line Patriote, the British vessel offering no resistance in the face of such overwhelming odds.
Hampton Roads is the name of both a body of water that serves as a wide channel for the James, Nansemond and Elizabeth rivers between Old Point Comfort and Sewell's Point where the Chesapeake Bay flows into the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding metropolitan region located in the Southeastern Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina portions of the Tidewater region.
Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" due to its status as the first English colonial possession established in mainland North America and "Mother of Presidents" because eight U.S. presidents were born there, more than any other state. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.
Joseph-Marie Nielly (1751–1833) was a French naval officer and admiral.
Troubridge and most of his crew were removed from their ship and taken aboard Nielly's flagship Sans Pareil, where they remained for the rest of the campaign.They were replaced by 200 French sailors taken from Nielly's squadron, as Castor was hastily refitted at sea for service with the French Navy. Command was given to Captain L'Huillier, who operated as a scout for Nielly's squadron until 24 May, when he became detached while chasing the Dutch merchant ship Maria Gertruda, which had been separated from a Dutch convoy that had been attacked by Villaret's fleet on 19 May. Separated from Nielly's ships, L'Huillier turned back towards Europe with the Dutch ship in tow. While the French fleets and squadrons searched the Eastern Atlantic for the convoy, the Royal Navy was equally active with a number of squadrons and independently sailing warships complementing the main fleet under Lord Howe. One such ship was the small 28-gun frigate HMS Carysfort under Captain Francis Laforey. Laforey was cruising the Eastern Atlantic for signs of the French convoy when on 29 May his lookouts sighted two sails ahead.
HMS Sans Pareil("Without Equal") was an 80-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She was formerly the French ship Sans Pareil, but was captured in 1794 and spent the rest of her career in service with the British.
HMS Carysfort was a 28-gun Coventry-class sixth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy. She served during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars in a career that spanned over forty years.
Laforey immediately advanced on the strange sails, which were soon revealed to be Castor and the Dutch merchant ship.With Carysfort bearing down on him L'Huillier cast off the tow and prepared for battle, meeting the approaching British frigate with a broadside. The engagement was fought at close range and with little manoeuvering by either side, the ships exchanging broadsides for an hour and fifteen minutes before L'Huillier surrendered. His ship was heavily battered in the exchange, with the main topgallantmast knocked down and the mainmast and hull severely damaged. Carysfort suffered just one man killed and four wounded from the understrength crew of 180, while casualties were much heavier among the approximately 200 men aboard Castor, the French losing 16 men killed and nine wounded. The Dutch ship initially escaped, but was later captured and its value was eventually included in the prize money paid for Castor.
Laforey's success was considered impressive by historian William James, as his ship carried only 28 nine-pounder cannon in contrast with L'Huillier's 32 twelve-pounder guns and four 24-pounder carronades. Castor was also a larger ship with a slightly larger crew,and although L'Huillier and his men had only been aboard for ten days, the crew of Carysfort had only come together immediately before the cruise and had not had much longer to become acquainted with their vessel than the French crew.
William M. James was a British lawyer turned military historian who wrote important histories of the military engagements of the British with the French and Americans from 1793 through the 1820s.
Laforey placed a boarding party aboard Castor, who discovered an officer and 18 British sailors held as prisoners below decks, part of the original crew of the ship. These men were freed and joined the prize crew in bringing the ship back to Britain.The rest of the crew, including Captain Troubridge, remained on Nielly's flagship throughout the subsequent campaign and witnessed the battle of the Glorious First of June, at which Sans Pareil was captured by Lord Howe's fleet. The French fleet was defeated, losing seven ships, but the convoy had passed safely to the north during the battle and eventually reached France without interception by the cruising British squadrons.
When Castor returned to Britain, the frigate was classed by the Admiralty and the Navy Board as "salvage" rather than as a prize. The laws regarding salvage meant that the proportion of prize money due to be paid to Laforey and his crew was significantly reduced by the declaration. The grounds for this judgement were that after its capture by the French, Castor was not taken into a French harbour and properly condemned by a French prize court and commissioned into the French Navy, the normal legal requirement for what was termed a "complete prize".On behalf of his men Laforey brought a legal challenge against the ruling to the High Court of Admiralty to determine the status of Castor. The judge, Sir James Marriott, heard evidence from a number of parties, including a deposition by Captain L'Huillier that described Admiral Nielly's standing orders to fit out any captured warships at sea for continued service in the campaign. After considering the evidence Marriott ruled that Castor was a legitimate prize "setting forth as a ship of war", and that the normal prize rules should apply to Laforey's case. The prize money for the purchase of the frigate was therefore authorised to be paid at Plymouth on 20 July 1795.
The result of the case did not damage Laforey's career: his junior officers were promoted after the action and he was given command of the larger frigate HMS Aimable. He went on to serve at the Battle of Trafalgar and become a full admiral before his death in 1835.However, historian Tom Wareham has speculated that the legal case was probably the reason that Laforey was denied the knighthood that customarily accompanied a successful frigate action at this stage of the war. More than five decades later the battle was among the actions recognised by a clasp attached to the Naval General Service Medal, awarded upon application to all British participants from Carysfort still living in 1847.
The Glorious First of June[Note A] of 1794 was the first and largest fleet action of the naval conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the First French Republic during the French Revolutionary Wars.
Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Troubridge, 1st Baronet was a Royal Navy officer. As a junior officer he saw action at the Battle of Sadras in February 1782 during the American Revolutionary War and the Battle of Trincomalee in September 1782 during the Anglo-French War. He commanded the third-rate Culloden at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in February 1797 during the French Revolutionary Wars. He went on to be First Naval Lord and then served as Commander-in-Chief, East Indies Station during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Action of 6 November 1794 was a naval engagement during the French Revolutionary Wars. Two British ships of the line, HMS Alexander and HMS Canada were intercepted while returning to Britain through the Celtic Sea by a large French squadron. The French squadron had sailed from Brest in search of an inward bound British convoy in October, but instead encountered the two British ships returning from escorting an outward-bound convoy. There had been no warning of the French approach as the British force assigned to watch Brest was absent at Plymouth due to the policy of operating a distant blockade.
The Atlantic campaign of May 1794 was a series of operations conducted by the British Royal Navy's Channel Fleet against the French Navy's Atlantic Fleet, with the aim of preventing the passage of a strategically important French grain convoy travelling from the United States to France. The campaign involved commerce raiding by detached forces and two minor engagements, eventually culminating in the full fleet action of the Glorious First of June 1794, at which both fleets were badly mauled and both Britain and France claimed victory. The French lost seven battleships; the British none, but the battle distracted the British fleet long enough for the French convoy to safely reach port.
HMS Castor was a 32-gun Amazon-class fifth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy. She served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The French briefly captured her during the Atlantic Campaign of May 1794 but she spent just 20 days in French hands as a British ship retook her before her prize crew could reach a French port. Castor eventually saw service in many of the theatres of the wars, spending time in the waters off the British Isles, in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, as well as the Caribbean.
Linois's expedition to the Indian Ocean was a commerce raiding operation launched by the French Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois was ordered to the Indian Ocean in his flagship Marengo in March 1803 accompanied by a squadron of three frigates, shortly before the end of the Peace of Amiens. When war between Britain and France broke out in September 1803, Marengo was at Pondicherry with the frigates, but escaped a British squadron sent to intercept it and reached Isle de France. The large distances between naval bases in the Indian Ocean and the limited resources available to the British commanders in the region made it difficult to concentrate sufficient forces to combat a squadron of this size, and Linois was subsequently able to sustain his campaign for three years. From Isle de France, Linois and his frigates began a series of attacks on British commerce across the Eastern Indian Ocean, specifically targeting the large convoys of East Indiamen that were vital to the maintenance of trade within the British Empire and to the British economy. Although he had a number of successes against individual merchant ships and the small British trading post of Bencoolen, the first military test of Linois squadron came at the Battle of Pulo Aura on 15 February 1804. Linois attacked the undefended British China Fleet, consisting of 16 valuable East Indiamen and 14 other vessels, but failed to press his military superiority and withdrew without capturing a single ship.
The Battle of Vizagapatam was a minor naval engagement fought in the approaches to Vizagapatam harbour in the Coastal Andhra region of British India on the Bay of Bengal on 15 September 1804 during the Napoleonic Wars. A French squadron under Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand Linois in the ship of the line Marengo attacked the British Royal Navy fourth rate ship HMS Centurion and two East Indiaman merchant ships anchored in the harbour roads. Linois was engaged in an extended raiding campaign, which had already involved operations in the South China Sea, in the Mozambique Channel, off Ceylon and along the Indian coast of the Bay of Bengal. The French squadron had fought one notable engagement, at the Battle of Pulo Aura on 15 February 1804, in which Linois had attacked the Honourable East India Company's (HEIC) China Fleet, a large convoy of well-armed merchant ships carrying cargo worth £8 million. Linois failed to press the attack and withdrew with the convoy at his mercy, invoking the anger of Napoleon when the news reached France.
The Atlantic campaign of 1806 was a complicated series of manoeuvrees and counter-manoeuveres conducted by squadrons of the French Navy and the British Royal Navy across the Atlantic Ocean during the spring and summer of 1806, as part of the Napoleonic Wars. The campaign followed directly from the Trafalgar campaign of the year before, in which the French Mediterranean fleet had crossed the Atlantic, returned to Europe and joined with the Spanish fleet. On 21 October 1805, this combined force was destroyed by a British fleet under Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, although the campaign did not end until the Battle of Cape Ortegal on 4 November 1805. Believing that the French Navy would not be capable of organised resistance at sea during the winter, the First Lord of the Admiralty Lord Barham withdrew the British blockade squadrons to harbour. Barham had miscalculated – the French Atlantic fleet, based at Brest, had not been involved in the Trafalgar campaign and was therefore at full strength. Taking advantage of the reduction in the British forces off the port, Napoleon ordered two heavy squadrons to sea, under instructions to raid British trade routes while avoiding contact with equivalent Royal Navy forces.
The Action of 18 October 1806 was a minor naval engagement during the Napoleonic Wars, fought between the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Caroline and a Dutch squadron at the entrance to Batavia harbour on Java in the Dutch East Indies. During the battle the Dutch frigate Maria Riggersbergen was left unsupported by the remainder of the squadron and, isolated, was forced to surrender.[Note A] Captain Peter Rainier, the British commander, was subsequently free to remove his prize from within sight of the Dutch port when the remainder of the Dutch squadron refused to engage Caroline and their crews deliberately grounded the ships to avoid capture. He also returned many prisoners taken previously in a captured brig.
The Action of 26 July 1806 was a minor naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars fought off the southern coast of the island of Celebes in the Dutch East Indies. During the battle, a small British squadron attacked and defeated a Dutch force defending a valuable convoy, which was also captured. The British force—consisting of the frigate HMS Greyhound and brig-sloop HMS Harrier under the command of Captain Edward Elphinstone—was initially wary of the Dutch, mistaking the Dutch East Indiaman merchant ship Victoria for a ship of the line. Closer observation revealed the identity of the Dutch vessels the following day and Elphinstone led his frigate against the leading Dutch warship Pallas while Harrier engaged the merchant vessels and forced them to surrender. Only the corvette William escaped, taking no part in the engagement.
The Java campaign of 1806–1807 was a minor campaign during the Napoleonic Wars by British Royal Navy forces against a naval squadron of the Kingdom of Holland, a client state of the French Empire, based on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. Seeking to eliminate any threat to valuable British merchant convoys passing through the Malacca Straits, Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew determined in early 1806 that the Dutch naval forces based at Java, which included several ships of the line and three frigates, had to be defeated to ensure British dominance in the region. Lacking the forces to effect an invasion of the Dutch colony, Pellew instead sought to isolate and blockade the Dutch squadron based at Batavia in preparation for raids specifically targeting the Dutch ships with his main force.
The Mediterranean campaign of 1798 was a series of major naval operations surrounding a French expeditionary force sent to Egypt under Napoleon Bonaparte during the French Revolutionary Wars. The French Republic sought to capture Egypt as the first stage in an effort to threaten British India, and thus force Great Britain to make peace. Departing Toulon in May 1798 with over 40,000 troops and hundreds of ships, Bonaparte's fleet sailed southeastwards across the Mediterranean Sea. They were followed by a small British squadron under Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, later reinforced to 13 ships of the line, whose pursuit was hampered by a lack of scouting frigates and reliable information. Bonaparte's first target was the island of Malta, which was under the government of the Knights of St. John and theoretically granted its owner control of the Central Mediterranean. Bonaparte's forces landed on the island and rapidly overwhelmed the defenders, securing the port city of Valletta before continuing to Egypt. When Nelson learned of the French capture of the island, he guessed the French target to be Egypt and sailed for Alexandria, but passed the French during the night of 22 June without discovering them and arrived off Egypt first.
The Action of 15 July 1798 was a minor naval battle of the French Revolutionary Wars, fought off the Spanish Mediterranean coast by the Royal Navy ship of the line HMS Lion under Captain Manley Dixon and a squadron of four Spanish Navy frigates under Commodore Don Felix O'Neil. Lion was one of several ships sent into the Western Mediterranean by Vice-Admiral Earl St Vincent, commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet based at the Tagus in Portugal during the late spring of 1798. The Spanish squadron was a raiding force that had sailed from Cartagena in Murcia seven days earlier, and was intercepted while returning to its base after an unsuccessful cruise. Although together the Spanish vessels outweighed the British ship, individually they were weaker and Commodore O'Neil failed to ensure that his manoeuvrees were co-ordinated. As a result, one of the frigates, Santa Dorotea, fell out of the line of battle and was attacked by Lion.
The Action of 7 May 1794 was a minor naval action fought between a British ship of the line and a French frigate early in the French Revolutionary Wars. The French Navy sought to disrupt British trade by intercepting and capturing merchant ships with roving frigates, a strategy countered by protecting British convoys with heavier warships, particularly in European waters. On 5 May 1794, the British escorts of a convoy from Cork sighted two French ships approaching and gave chase. The ships, a frigate and a corvette, outmatched by their opponents, separated and the convoy escorts did likewise, each following one of the raiders on a separate course.
The Action of 7 April 1800 was a minor naval engagement fought between a British squadron blockading the Spanish naval base of Cádiz and a convoy of 13 Spanish merchant vessels escorted by three frigates, bound for the Spanish colonies in the Americas. The blockade squadron consisted of the ships of the line HMS Leviathan and HMS Swiftsure and the frigate HMS Emerald, commanded by Rear-Admiral John Thomas Duckworth on Leviathan. The Spanish convoy sailed from Cádiz on 3 April 1800 and encountered Duckworth's squadron two days later. The Spanish attempted to escape; Emerald succeeded in capturing one ship early on 6 April. The British captured a brig the following morning and the British squadron divided in pursuit of the remainder.
The Macau Incident was an inconclusive encounter between a powerful squadron of French and Spanish warships and a British Royal Navy escort squadron in the Wanshan Archipelago off Macau on 27 January 1799. The incident took place in the context of the East Indies campaign of the French Revolutionary Wars, the allied squadron attempting to disrupt a valuable British merchant convoy due to sail from Qing Dynasty China. This was the second such attempt in three years; at the Bali Strait Incident of 1797 a French frigate squadron had declined to engage six East Indiamen on their way to China. By early 1799 the French squadron had dispersed, with two remaining ships deployed to the Spanish Philippines. There the frigates had united with the Spanish Manila squadron and sailed to attack the British China convoy gathering at Macau.
The Battle of the Levant Convoy was a naval engagement of the French Revolutionary Wars fought on 7 October 1795. During the battle, a powerful French squadron surprised a valuable British convoy from the Levant off Cape St Vincent on the coast of Portugal. The convoy was weakly defended, and although the small escort squadron tried to drive the French back, they were outmatched. In the ensuing action one of the British ships of the line and almost the entire convoy was overrun and captured. The French commander, Commodore Joseph de Richery, then retired to the neutral Spanish port of Cádiz, where he came under blockade.