Action of 1797-03-09
Notes on Action
Description of the action taken from Naval History of Great Britain Vol IV by William James
On the 22nd of February, in the evening, the French 40-gun frigates Resistance and Vengeance, 22-gun ship-corvette Constance, and lugger Vautour, anchored in Fisgard bay on the coast of Wales. During the night they landed 1200 galley-slaves, dressed and accoutred as soldiers, but without any cannon or camp-equipage. The alarm soon spread, and it was not long before a strong body of militia, under the command of Lord Cawdor, assembled near the spot. The Frenchmen, whose intentions were rather predatory than warlike, immediately surrendered, and were marched as prisoners to Haverfordwest.
Meanwhile the vessels that had brought them weighed, and soon disappeared from the coast. What was the object of this silly expedition, no one, not even among the French, seems rightly to have understood.
On the 9th of March, early in the morning, the British 18-pound 36-gun frigate San Fiorenzo, Captain Sir Harry Neale, and 12-pounder 36-gun frigate Nymphe, Captain John Cooke, while on their return to Admiral Lord Bridport's fleet off Ushant, after having reconnoitred the read to Brest, then being from them east by north distant three or four leagues, saw to the westward, standing in towards the port, two of the three ships which had been so creditably employed: one the 40-gun frigate Resistance, Captain de Vaisseau Jean-Baptiste Montagnies Laroquc, the other the 22-gun corvette Constance, Captain Desauney. The San Fiorenzo and Nymphe immediately tacked and hauled close to the wind, until, having gained the weather-gage they bore down for the two strangers, who had by this time hoisted French colours, and the headmost of whom now tired at the British ships. The distance from Pointe Saint-Mathieu being less than three' leagues, the French fleet of 14 sail of the hue and six frigates in sight from the tops, and the wind a hading one out of Brest, that which was likely to be the most decisive, was deemed the best, mode of attack.
Accordingly, the two British frigates stood for, and, at the distance of about 40 yards, soon engaged, the headmost ship, the Resistance; which, after a slight defence, struck her colours. By the time this ship was taken possession of, the other had arrived up, and. being attacked by both British frigate warmly as her consort had been, in 10 minutes surrendered The action, which was a running fight, did not last longer than half an hour; but it is due to Captain Desauney to state, that, although commanding by far the weaker ship, he made a much more creditable defence than his commodore: the Constance, indeed, soon after being taken possession of, lost her mainmast and foretopmast, owing to the fire she had withstood. Just at the close of the action, the British 74-gun ship Robust, Captain George Countess, and 28-gun frigate Triton Captain John Gore, hove in sight; a circumstance that, doubtless, had its effect in facilitating the capture.
Neither of the British ships suffered the slightest damage, the Resistance, on the other hand, had 10 men killed, her first-lieutenant and eight men wounded; the Constance, eight men killed and six wounded: total, 18 killed and 15 wounded.
There is little doubt that, had the odds in this case been reversed, the British would have made an honourable, if not a successful defence. Taking into the account, however, that a British 74 and frigate were present at the close, and must have been in sight during the continuance of the action, all that can be said is, that the British gained, without the occurrence on their part of a single casualty, two remarkably fine ships. The Resistance mounted 48 guns, or four more long 8s than No. 5 in the Table at p. 59 of vol. I., (but not, as a contemporary states, "24-pounders on the main deck,") and measured 1182 tons. The Vengeance was her sister-ship. The larger prize, under the name, in allusion to the spot at which the Resistance and her consorts had disembarked their convict freight, of Fisgard, continued for a long while at the head of the 38-gun frigate-class, and the smaller one retained her French name as a 22-gun post-ship.