Blanche vs Pique

6th January 1795
Part of : The French Revolutionary Wars (1793 - 1802)
Previous action : Action off Mauritius 22.10.1794
Next action : Lively vs Tourterelle 13.3.1795

 

Great Britain

 
Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
 
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Blanche (32) Robert Faulknor (1763-1795), Charles Sawyer8 killed, 21 wounded CO Killed
 

Spain

 
Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
 
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Pique (32)   Captured 76 killed, 110 wounded
 

Notes on Action


Description of the ActionW005

On the 30th of December, 1794, at 11 a.m., the British 12-pounder 32-gun frigate Blanche, Captain Robert Faulknor, cruising off the island of Desirade, one of the dependencies of Guadeloupe, and, like the latter, again in French possession, chased a large French armed schooner under a fort at the bottom of a bay in the first-named island. At 2 p.m. the Blanche stood into the bay after the schooner, which had come to an anchor, with springs on her cables. At 2 h. 30 m. the fort and schooner, as well as some troops drawn up on the shore, opened a fire upon the Blanche, then about 700 yards distant, working up to a nearer and more effectual position.

At 3 h. 45 m. p.m., having got close abreast of the fort, the Blanche dropped her anchor, and commenced a heavy fire, as well upon the fort as upon the schooner and some troops drawn up on the shore to assist in defending her. At 4 p.m., having silenced the fort, Captain Faulknor despatched the boats of the frigate to capture the schooner. This the boats very soon effected; and the Blanche weighed and stood out with her prize, which was a national schooner mounting eight guns, and commanded by a lieutenant de vaisseau, recently from Pointe-à-Pitre in the island of Guadeloupe. The loss sustained by the Blanche in this spirited enterprise was rather severe, amounting to one midshipman (Mr. Fitzgibbon) and one marine killed, and four seamen wounded: that on the part of the French schooner could not be ascertained, as the crew, previously to her being boarded, had escaped to the shore.

Having manned his prize and despatched her to the harbour of the Saintes, two small islands close to Guadeloupe, and still in British possession, Captain Faulknor proceeded on a cruise off Pointe-a-Pitre, a harbour in Grande-terre, Guadeloupe, and in which lay, ready for sea, the French 36-gun frigate Pique, Captain Conseil. On the 2d of January the Blanche was joined by the 12-pounder 32-gun frigate Quebec, Captain James Carpenter; but, the next afternoon, the latter parted company, and, bearing up to the westward under all sail, was soon out of sight.

Thus left alone, the Blanche at about 6 p.m. steered straight for Pointe-à-Pitre, and, on arriving within four miles of the port, lay to for the night. On the nest day, the 4th, at daybreak, the Blanche at about 6 p.m. steered straight for Pointe-à-Pitre, and, on arriving within four miles of the port, lay to for the night. On the nest day, the 4th, at daybreak, the Blanche discovered the Pique lying at anchor just outside of the harbour. At 7 a.m. the French frigate got under way, and began working into the offing under her topsails, backing her mizen topsail occasionally, to keep company with a schooner which had weighed with her. At about 8 h. 30 m. the Blanche made sail to meet the French ship and schooner, until nearly within gun-shot of Fort Fleur-d'Epée; when, finding the Pique apparently disinclined to come out from the batteries, the Blanche, who had hove to, made sail to board a schooner running down along Grande-terre. At this time Pointe-à-Pitre bore from the Blanche north-west, distant two leagues, and the French frigate north-north-west, distant three miles.

At half-past noon the Pique filled and made sail towards the Blanche. At 1 p.m. the latter brought to an American schooner from Bordeaux to Pointe-à-Pitre with wine and brandy, and, taking her in tow, steered towards the Saintes. At 2 p.m. the Pique crossed the Blanche on the opposite tack, and, hoisting French colours, fired four shots at her. This challenge, as it might be considered, the British frigate answered, by firing a shot to windward. The battery at Gosier also fired two shots; but they, like those of the frigate, fell short. At 2 h. 30 m. p.m., finding that the Pique had tacked and was standing towards her the Blanche shortened sail for the French frigate to come up; but at 3 h. 30 in. p.m. the latter tacked and stood away.

In the hope to induce the Pique to follow her, the Blanche, under topsails and courses, stood towards Marie-Galante. At 7 p.m., observing the Pique still under Grande-terre, Captain Faulknor took out the American crew from the schooner, and sent on board a petty officer and party of men. The Blanche then wore, and stood towards the island of Dominique, with the schooner in tow. At about 8 p.m. the French frigate was descried astern, about two leagues distant, standing after the Blanche. The latter immediately cast off the schooner, and tacking, made all sail in chase.

At about a quarter past midnight the Blanche, on the starboard tack, passed under the lee of the Pique on the larboard tack, and returned the distant broadside which the Pique had fired at her. At half-past midnight, having got nearly in the wake of her opponent, the Blanche tacked; and, at a few minutes before 1 a.m. on the 5th, just as she had arrived within musket-shot upon the starboard quarter of the Pique, the latter wore, with the intention of crossing her opponent's hawse and raking her ahead. To frustrate this manoeuvre, the Blanche wore also; and the two frigates became closely engaged, broadside to broadside.

At about 2 h. 30 m. a.m. the Blanche, having shot ahead, was in the act of luffing up to port to rake the Pique ahead, when the former's wounded mizen and main masts, in succession, fell over the side. Almost immediately after this, the Pique ran foul of the Blanche on her larboard quarter, and made several attempts to board. These attempts the British crew successfully, resisted, and the larboard quarterdeck guns, and such of the maindeck ones as would bear, were fired with destructive effect into the Pique's starboard bow; she returning the fire from her tops, as well as from some of her quarterdeck guns run in amidships fore and aft. At a few minutes before 3 a.m. while assisting his second lieutenant, Mr. David Milne, and one or two others of his crew, in lashing, with such ropes as were handy, the bowsprit of the Pique to the capstan of the Blanche, preparatory to a more secure fastening by means of a hawser which was getting up from below, the young and gallant Captain Faulknor fell by a musket-ball through his heart.

At this moment, or very soon afterwards, the lashings broke loose; and the Pique, crossing the stern of the Blanche, who had now begun to pay off for the want of after-sail, fell on board the latter, a second time, upon the starboard quarter. In an instant the British crew, with the hawser which had just before been got on deck, lashed the bowsprit of the Pique to the stump of their own mainmast. In this manner the Blanche, commanded now by Lieutenant Frederick Watkins, towed before the wind her resolute opponent : whose repeated attempts to cut away this second lashing were defeated by the quick and well-directed fire of the British marines. In the mean while, the constant stream of musketry poured upon the quarterdeck of the Blanche from the forecastle and tops of the Pique, and a well-directed fire from the latter's quarterdeck guns pointed forward, gave great annoyance to the former; particularly, as having, like many other ships in the British navy at this period no stern-posts on the main deck, the cannonade on the part of the Blanche was confined to two quarterdeck 6-pounders. The carpenters having in vain tried to cut down the upper transom beam, no alternative remained but to blow away a part of it on each side. As soon, therefore, as the firemen with their buckets were assembled in the cabin, the two after guns were pointed against the stern-frame. Their discharge made a clear breach on both sides, and the activity, of the bucket-men quickly extinguished the fire it had occasioned in the wood-work. The two 12-pounders of the Blanche, thus brought into use, soon made considerable havoc upon the Pique's decks.

At about 3 h. 15 m. a.m. the mainmast of the French frigate her fore and mizen masts having previously fallen over the side. In this utterly defenceless state, without a gun which, on account of the wreck of her masts, she could now bring to bear, the Pique sustained the raking fire of the Blanche until 5 h. 15 m. a.m.; when some of the French crew, from the bowsprit-end, called aloud for quarter. The Blanche immediately ceased her fire; and, every boat in both vessels having been destroyed by shot, Lieutenant Milne, followed by ten seamen, endeavoured to reach the prize by means of the hawser that still held her; but, their weight bringing the bight of the rope down in the water, they had to swim a part of the distance.

The following diagram will assist in explaining the manner in which this gallantly-fought action was brought to a termination.

The Blanche, besides her 32 long 12 and 6 pounders, mounted six 18-pounder carronades, total 38 guns; and, having sent away in prizes two master's mates and 12 seamen, she had on board no more than 198 men and boys. Of these, the Blanche lost her commander, one midshipman (William Bolton) five seamen, and one private marine killed, one midshipman (Charles Herbert), two quartermasters, the armourer, one sergeant of marines, 12 seamen, and four private marines wounded; total, eight killed and 21 wounded.

The Pique was armed with two carriage-guns, 6-pounders, less than her establishment, or 38 in all; but she mounted along her gunwale on each side, several brass swivels. Respecting the number composing the crew of the Pique, the accounts are very contradictory. Lieutenant Watkins, in his official letter, states the number at 360; and Vice-admiral Caldwell, at Martinique, when enclosing that letter to the admiralty, says, "many more than 360." On the other hand, the three French officers, examined before the surrogate of the colonial vice-admiralty court, subsequently deposed, two of them to " between 260 and 270 men,'' and the third to " about 270 men," as the total number on board their ship when the action commenced. Upon these certificates, head-money was paid for 265 men; but, according to the documents transmitted along with those certificates, the, actual number of men on board was 279. Among the documents is a letter, with admiral Caldwell's signature, stating that the number of killed, wounded, and prisoners, the amount of which, however, is not shown, accords exactly with the number, 279, alleged to be on board the Pique; yet, in the admiral's letter in the Gazette, the total of killed, wounded, and prisoners, amounts to 360. Schomberg makes the number 460; and another writer considers the Pique's men to have nearly doubled those of the Blanche. We are satisfied, however, that 279 is the full amount of the French crew. Of this number the Pique had, it appears, 76 officers and men killed, and 110 wounded; a loss unparalleled in its proportion.











COMPARATIVE FORCE OF THE COMBATANTS
BlanchePique
Broadside guns No1919
lbs228273
Crew No198279
Size Tons710906

A difference there is, but scarcely sufficient, except perhaps in point of crew, to entitle the action to be considered otherwise than as an equal match. The French officers and crew fought the Pique in a most gallant manner; surrendering only when their ship was a defenceless hulk, and themselves reduced to a third of their original number.

Nor must we omit to do a further act of justice to Captain Conseil, or to his memory rather, for, although not stated, he was, we believe, among the mortally wounded in the action, and express it as our conviction, that he evinced a laudable caution in not going out to meet the Blanche, until he was certain that the frigate, so recently seen in her company, had retired to a safe distance. On the part of the British officers and crew, consummate intrepidity was displayed, from the beginning to the end of this long and sanguinary battle. Indeed, a spirit of chivalry seems to have animated both parties; and the action of the Blanche and Pique may be referred to with credit by either.


Naval General Service MedalEWIKI
A Naval General Service Medal Clasp was authorised for this action in 1847

Sources


IDDescriptionAuthorType
W005Naval History of Great Britain Volume 2 from 1793 to the accession of Georges IVWilliam JamesWeb Site
EWIKIWikipediaVariousWeb Site

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