Sir Nathaniel Dance
|Born||20 June 1748|
|Died||25 March 1827 78) (aged|
|Allegiance|| United Kingdom of|
Great Britain and Ireland
|Service/||Honourable East India Company|
|Years of service||1759–1804|
|Battles/wars|| French Revolutionary Wars |
Battle of Pulo Aura
Sir Nathaniel Dance (20 June 1748 – 25 March 1827) was an officer of the Honourable East India Company who had a long and varied career on merchant vessels, making numerous voyages to India and back with the fleets of East Indiamen. He was already aware of the risks of the valuable ships he sailed on being preyed on by foreign navies, having been captured by a Franco-Spanish fleet in 1780 during the East Indies campaign of the American War of Independence. His greatest achievement came during the Napoleonic Wars, when having been appointed commodore of one of the company's fleets, he came across a French squadron under Rear-Admiral Comte de Linois, which was raiding British shipping in the area.
Through skilful seamanship and aggressive tactics he fooled the French commander into thinking that the British convoy was escorted by powerful naval forces, and the French decided not to risk attacking the convoy. Dance compounded the deception by taking his lightly armed merchants and chasing the French away, despite the considerable disparity of force. Having saved the convoy from almost certain destruction, Dance was hailed as a hero, lavishly rewarded with money and a knighthood, and spent the last years of his life in comfortable retirement.
Dance was born in London on 20 June 1748, the son of James Dance and his wife Elizabeth.James Dance was a successful lawyer of the city, but shortly after the birth of Nathaniel, he abandoned his wife to live with an actress, and in time established himself as a successful actor and playwright in Drury Lane. Elizabeth Dance and her family were instead cared for by James's father, and Nathaniel's paternal grandfather, George Dance the Elder, a prominent architect for the City of London. Nathaniel lived with his grandfather until 1759, when he went to sea under the patronage of Nathaniel Smith, a high-ranking official in the Honourable East India Company. With Smith's support, Dance rose through the ranks of the service, by 1780 having made eight voyages to India, as well as one to the Mediterranean and one to the West Indies. While making his ninth voyage to India as first officer on Royal George when a combined Spanish and French fleet captured his ship in the Action of 9 August 1780. [a] Dance was taken to Spain, where he spent six months on parole. He became commander of Lord Camden in January 1787, making another four voyages to India aboard her (including one that went as far as Canton). He was appointed commander of a new ship, Earl Camden, in 1802, and he sailed her in January 1803 to China.
Earl Camden sailed from Canton with the rest of the fleet on 31 January 1804, bound for England. million, (approximately £709 million in present-day terms ). Dance had been taken seriously ill at Bombay during the outward voyage, but had recovered in time to sail with the convoy. The fleet did not have any naval escorts, and though the East Indiamen were heavily armed for merchants, carrying nominal batteries of between 30 and 36 guns, they were no match for disciplined and professional naval forces. Not all of their listed armament was always carried, but to give the illusion of greater strength, fake gunports were often painted on the hulls, in the hope of distant observers mistaking them for 64-gun ships of the Royal Navy. By the time the fleet approached the Strait of Malacca on 14 February, Dance's convoy had swelled to include 16 East Indiamen, 11 country ships, a Portuguese merchant ship from Macau, and a vessel from Botany Bay in Australia. Although the HEIC had provided the small, armed brig Ganges as an escort, this vessel could only dissuade pirates; it could not hope to confront a French warship. As they neared the entrance to the straits suspicious sails were sighted in the south west. Dance sent some of his ships to investigate, and it was soon discovered that this was Linois's squadron, consisting of the 74-gun Marengo, the two heavy frigates Sémillante and Belle Poule, the corvette Berceau, and the Dutch brig Aventurier.By virtue of his seniority Dance was appointed commodore of the fleet of 11 "country" ships, and 16 East Indiamen. The fleet that had been assembled was the richest to date, carrying cargoes with an estimated value of £8
Having ascertained the identity of the ships Dance signalled for his merchants to form the line of battle, and continued their heading, while the French closed, but made no move to attack.Dance used the delay to gather his ships together so the stronger East Indiamen stood between the French and the weaker country ships. The merchants continued on towards the straits, followed by Linois, who was trying to gauge the strength of the convoy. There were more ships in the convoy than he had expected, and taken in by Dance's manoeuvres and the painted gunports, Linois suspected that several warships were escorting them. He seemed to be confirmed in his suspicions when at dawn on 15 February, both forces raised their colours. Dance ordered the brig Ganges and the four lead ships to hoist Blue Ensigns, while the rest of the convoy raised Red Ensigns. By the system of national flags then in use in British ships, this implied that the ships with blue ensigns were warships attached to the squadron of Admiral Peter Rainier, while the others were merchant ships under their protection.
With the French still appearing reluctant to attack on the morning of 16 February, Dance ordered his ships to increase their speed by breaking into a sailing formation. This had the effect of making the convoy appear less intimidating and Linois decided to attack. 1797 ship (2) and his own ship, Earl Camden, to come about and close on the French. Advancing under full sail, they endured the fire of the French as they closed, before firing broadsides at close range. At this the French abandoned their attack, turned, and fled under a press of sail. Dance hoisted the signal for a general chase and his merchant fleet pursued the French squadron for two hours, before Dance broke off and returned on his original heading. The fleet resumed their course towards the Malacca Strait, and having met two British ships of the line from Admiral Peter Rainier's fleet on 28 February, were escorted as far as Saint Helena. [b] There the convoy met with other British merchants, and were escorted to Britain by Royal Navy warships, arriving in August 1804.By the afternoon the French were observed to be moving to cut off the rearmost ships of the convoy. Dance promptly hoisted colours, and ordered his largest ships, led by the East Indiamen Royal George, Ganges
The achievement of a convoy of merchants not only escaping without loss from a French squadron, but going so far as to attack, drive off, and then pursue their would-be predators, was widely hailed as a signal victory.
The Naval Chronicle declared:
We cannot sufficiently express our opinion of the coolness, intrepidity, and skill, with which the Commander of this Fleet, unaccustomed as he was to the practice of naval engagements, provided against every emergency, and prepared his plans, either for attack or defence, as the manoeuvres of the French Admiral might render it expedient for him to adopt either the one of the other. His conduct was worthy of the experience and science of our most approved and veteran Admirals, while the ardour and promptitude with which his orders were obeyed and his plans executed by the several Captains under his command, may have been rivalled, but can scarcely be exceeded in the most renowned of our naval exploits.
Dance received £5,000 from the Bombay Insurance Company (approximately £338,000 in present-day terms), a pension of £500 a year (approximately £34,000 a year in present-day terms ), plate worth 200 guineas from the Honourable East India Company, a ceremonial sword worth £100, and a silver vase.
Captain Timmins of Royal George received £1000, a sword and plate, while the other captains received £500, and a sword and plate, with money being paid to the officers and seaman under their command. An ordinary seaman received £6 (approximately £500.00 in present-day terms ). Dance himself credited the actions of those under his command as being largely responsible for the victory, writing in reply to the award from the Bombay Insurance Company:
Placed, by the adventitious circumstances of seniority of service and absence of convoy, in the chief command of the fleet intrusted to my care, it has been my good fortune to have been enabled, by the firmness of those by whom I was supported, to perform my trust not only with fidelity, but without loss to my employers. Public opinion and public rewards have already far outrun my deserts; and I cannot but be sensible that the liberal spirit of my generous countrymen has measured what they are pleased to term their grateful sense of my conduct, rather by the particular utility of the exploit, than by any individual merit I can claim.— Nathaniel Dance, quoted in William James' The Naval History of Great Britain during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Volume 3, 1827,
Dance received a knighthood and went into a comfortable retirement, dying at Enfield on 25 March 1827 at the age of 78.
a. ^ According to Tracy, Dance was captured while commanding his first ship, Dance having reached the rank of commander in 1780. Laughton however implies that Dance did not command his first ship, the Lord Camden, until 1787, while the Naval Chronicle states 'From the year 1759 to 1787, he passed successively through all the gradations of professional service ... to the rank of commander'.
b. ^ These were HMS Sceptre and HMS Albion.
The Battle of Pulo Aura was a minor naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, fought on 14 February 1804, in which a large convoy of Honourable East India Company (HEIC) East Indiamen, well-armed merchant ships, intimidated, drove off and chased away a powerful French naval squadron. Although the French force was much stronger than the British convoy, Commodore Nathaniel Dance's aggressive tactics persuaded Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois to retire after only a brief exchange of shot. Dance then chased the French warships until his convoy was out of danger, whereupon he resumed his passage toward British India. Linois later claimed that the unescorted British merchant fleet was defended by eight ships of the line, a claim criticised by contemporary officers and later historians.
Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand, Comte de Linois was a French admiral who served in the French Navy during the reign Napoleon Bonaparte. He commanded the combined Franco-Spanish fleet during the Algeciras Campaign in 1801, winning the First Battle of Algeciras before losing the Second Battle of Algeciras. He then led an unsuccessful campaign against British trade in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea in 1803, being defeated by a harmless fleet of the East India Company during the Battle of Pulo Aura and ending his cruise and career being bested in battle by John Warren in the Action of 13 March 1806.
The Action of 31 May 1809 was a naval skirmish in the Bay of Bengal during the Napoleonic Wars. During the action, an Honourable East India Company convoy carrying goods worth over £500,000 was attacked and partially captured by the French frigate Caroline. The three East Indiamen that made up the convoy fought against their opponent with their own batteries of cannon but ultimately were less powerful, less manoeuvrable and less trained than their opponent and were defeated one by one; only the smallest of the three escaped. The action was the first in a string of attacks on important convoys in the Indian Ocean by French cruisers operating from Île de France and Île Bonaparte during a concerted campaign against British shipping in the region.
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 Action of 13 March 1806 was a naval engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, fought when a British and a French squadron met unexpectedly in the mid-Atlantic. Neither force was aware of the presence of the other prior to the encounter and were participating in separate campaigns. The British squadron consisted of seven ships of the line accompanied by associated frigates, led by Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, were tasked with hunting down and destroying the French squadron of Contre-Admiral Jean-Baptiste Willaumez, which had departed Brest for raiding operations in the South Atlantic in December 1805, at the start of the Atlantic campaign of 1806. The French force consisted of one ship of the line and one frigate, all that remained of Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois' squadron that had sailed for the Indian Ocean in March 1803 during the Peace of Amiens. Linois raided British shipping lanes and harbours across the region, achieving limited success against undefended merchant ships but repeatedly withdrawing in the face of determined opposition, most notably at the Battle of Pulo Aura in February 1804. With his stores almost exhausted and the French ports east of the Cape of Good Hope that could have offered him replenishment eliminated, Linois decided to return to France in January 1806, and by March was inadvertently sailing across the cruising ground of Warren's squadron.
HMS Centurion was a 50-gun Salisbury-class fourth rate of the Royal Navy. She served during the American War of Independence, and during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
Sir James Lind KCB was an officer of the Royal Navy who served during the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The son of James Lind, a distinguished naval physician, Lind also embarked on a career at sea, but served in a more front line role. After serving on a number of different ships he finally received his own command in 1800, but his first chance to show his ability came only in 1803 when in command of HMS Sheerness. Here he captured a French privateer after his imitation of a merchant ship encouraged the privateer to actually attack his heavily armed frigate. He then revealed the true nature of his ship and the hapless privateer had no choice but to swiftly surrender. Promoted to command the 50-gun HMS Centurion Lind had another opportunity to distinguish himself, when the convoy under his protection was attacked in the harbour of Vizagapatnam by a heavily armed French squadron under Rear-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois. Despite being on shore at the time Lind hurried back to take command and supervise operations to resist the French, who though were able to capture one of the merchants, decided not to risk pressing the attack on the Centurion and withdrew. The survival of the Centurion in the face of overwhelming forces was hailed as a great achievement back home in Britain, with Lind being knighted for his efforts.
The Action of 4 August 1800 was a highly unusual naval engagement that took place off the Brazilian coast during the French Revolutionary Wars. A French frigate force that had been raiding British commerce off West Africa approached and attempted to attack a convoy of valuable East Indiamen, large and heavily armed merchant vessels sailing from Britain to British India and China, two ships sailing for Botany Bay, and a whaler sailing for the South Seas' whale fishery. The small British ship of the line HMS Belliqueux escorted the convoy, which otherwise had to rely on the ships' individual armament to protect them from attack. Due to their large size, the East Indiamen could be mistaken for ships of the line at a distance, and the French commander Commodore Jean-François Landolphe was un-nerved when the convoy formed a line of battle. Supposing his target to be a fleet of powerful warships he turned to escape and the British commander, Captain Rowley Bulteel, immediately ordered a pursuit. To preserve the impression of warships he also ordered four of his most powerful East Indiamen to join the chase.
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.
John Ferrier was a British officer in the Royal Navy who served during the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
Ganges was a large, three-decker East Indiaman, launched in 1797. She made three complete voyages between Britain and China for the British East India Company. On her third she participated in the singular Battle of Pulo Auro. Unfortunately, she sank on the homeward leg of her fourth voyage, but with no loss of life.
The Bali Strait Incident was an encounter between a squadron of six French Navy frigates and six British East India Company (EIC) East Indiamen in the Bali Strait on 28 January 1797. The incident took place admidst the East Indies campaign of the French Revolutionary Wars — repeated French attempts to disrupt the highly valuable British trade routes with British India and Qing Dynasty China.
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.
Alfred was launched in 1790 as an East Indiaman for the British East India Company (EIC). She made eight voyages for the EIC before she was sold. She participated in two notable incidents in which East Indiamen bluffed superior French naval forces from engaging. In January 1797, on her third voyage, in the Bali Strait Alfred and five other Indiamen sent off a French squadron of six frigates without a shot being fired. In February 1804, at Pulo Aura, during her sixth voyage she participated in a notable engagement with a French squadron. After her last voyage for the EIC Alfred served as a storeship and a hulk.
Earl Camden. Was launched in 1802 as an East Indiaman for the British East India Company (EIC). She made three voyages for the EIC until a fire destroyed her at Bombay in 1810 on her fourth voyage. On her first voyage she was under the command of Nathaniel Dance, who was the commodore of the EIC's homeward-bound China Fleet at the battle of Pulo Aura. In the South China sea he led the whole convoy into an attack that bluffed a squadron of five French warships into withdrawing.
Hope was launched in 1797 on the Thames River. She made seven voyages for the British East India Company (EIC) before she was sold for breaking up in 1816. She was one of the East Indiamen at the battle of Pulo Aura.
Brunswick was launched in 1792 as an East Indiaman for the British East India Company (EIC). She made five complete voyages for the EIC before the French captured her in 1805. Shortly thereafter she wrecked at the Cape of Good Hope.
Bombay Castle was launched in 1792 as an East Indiaman. She made six voyages for the British East India Company (EIC) before she was sold in 1807 for breaking up. In addition to carrying cargo for the EIC, she transported troops in one campaign, participated in a naval action in which she helped capture a French frigate, and played a leading role in an encounter between the French Navy and a fleet of East Indiamen in which the East Indiamen succeeded in bluffing the French to withdraw.
Dorsetshire was launched in 1800 as an East Indiaman. She made nine voyages for the British East India Company (EIC). In each of her first, second, and third voyages she was involved in a notable action. The remainder of her voyages appear to have proceeded without incident. She ceased sailing for the EIC in 1823 and was broken up c.1827.