Constitution vs Java

29th December 1812
Part of : The War of 1812 (1812 - 1814)
Previous action : United States vs Macedonian 25.10.1812
Next action : Hornet vs Peacock 24.2.1813


United States of America

Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Constitution (44) William Bainbridge (1774-1833)

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Java (38) Henry Lambert (d.1813)22 killed, 102 wounded Captured



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Posted by Brian Stephens on Sunday 30th of March 2014 21:37

June 24, 1813

Letters of which are Copies and Extracts, have been transmitted to this office by Rear Admiral Dixon, addressed to John Wilson Croker, Esq., by Lieutenant Chads, late 1st. Lieutenant of his Majesty's Ship Java.
Unites States frigate, Constitution off St. Salvador, Dec 31, 1812
SIR, It is with deep regret that I write you, for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that his Majesty's ship Java is no more, after sustaining an action on the 29th inst. for several hours with the American frigate Constitution, which resulted in the capture and ultimate destruction of his Majesty's ship. Captain Lambert being dangerously wounded in the height of the action, the melancholy task of writing the detail devolves on me.

On the morning of the 29th inst. at 8 A.M. off St. Salvadore, (coast of Brazil) the wind at N.E. we perceived a strange sail; made all sail in chase, and soon made her out to be a large frigate; at noon prepared for action, the chase not answering our private signals and tacking towards us under easy sail; when about four miles distant she made a signal, and immediately tacked and made all sail away upon the wind. We soon found we had the advantage of her in sailing, and came up with her fast, when she hoisted American colours; she the bore about 3 points on our lee bow. At fifty minutes past one, P.M. the enemy shortened sail, on which we bore down upon her; at ten minutes past two, when about half a mile distant, she opened fired giving us her starboard broadside, which was not returned till we were close on her weather bow. Both ships now maneuvered to obtain advantageous positions, our opponent evidently avoiding close action and firing high to disable our masts in which he succeeded to well having shot away our bowsprit with the jib-boom and our running rigging so much cut as to prevent our preserving the weather gage. At five minutes past three, finding the enemies raking fire extremely heavy, Captain Lambert ordered the ship to be laid on board, in which we should have succeeded, had not our fore-mast not been shot away at this moment, the remains of our bowsprit passing over his taffrail; shortly after this the maintop-mast went, leaving the ship totally unmanageable, with most of our starboard guns rendered useless from the wreck lying over them.

At half past three our gallant Captain received a dangerous wound in the breast, and was carried below; from this time we could not fire more than two or three guns until a quarter past four, when our mizen-mast was shot away; the ship then fell off a little and brought many of our starboard guns to bear; the enemy's rigging was so much cut that he could not avoid shooting ahead, which brought us fairly broadside and broadside; our main yard now went into the sling; both ships continued engaged in this manner till thirty five minutes past four, we frequently on fire in consequence of the wreck lying on the side engaged.

Our opponent now made sail a bead out of gun-shot, were he remained an hour repairing his damages, leaving us an unmanageable wreck with only the main mast left, and that tottering. Every exertion was made by us during this interval to place the ship in a state to renew the action. We succeeded in clearing the wreck of our masts, from pour guns.
A sail was set up on the stumps of the foremast and bowsprit, the weather half of the main yard remaining aloft, the main tact was got forward in the hope of getting the ship before the wind, our helm being still perfect; the effort unfortunately proved ineffectual from the main mast falling over the side, from the heavy rolling of the ship which nearly covered the whole of our starboard guns. We still waited the attack of the enemy, he now standing towards us for that purpose; on his coming nearly within hail of us, and from his maneuver perceived he intended a position of a-head, were he could take us without the possibility of our returning a shot; I then consulted the officers, who agreed with myself that having a great part of our crew killed or wounded, our bowsprit and three masts gone, several guns useless, we should not be justified in wasting the lives of more of those remaining, and I hope their Lordships and the country will think we have bravely defended his Majesty's ship; under these circumstances, however reluctantly, at 50 minutes past five, our colours were lowered from the stump of the mizen-mast, and we were taken possession of a little after six, by the American Frigate Constitution, commanded by Commodore Bainbridge, who, immediately ascertaining the state of the ship, resolved on burning her, which we had the satisfaction as seeing done as soon as the wounded men were removed.
Annexed I send you a return of the killed and wounded, and it is with pain I perceive it so numerous; also a statement of the comparative force of the two ships, when I hope their Lordships will not think the British flag tarnished, although success has not attended us. It would be presumptuous in me to speak of Captain Lambert's merits, who though still in danger from his wound, we still entertain the greatest hopes of his being restored to the service and his country.

It is most gratifying to my feelings to notice the gallantry of every officer, seaman, and marine on board; in justice to the officers, I beg leave to mention them individually. I can never speak too highly of the able exertions of Lieutenants Heveringham and Buchanan, and also Mr. Robinson, Master, who was severely wounded. To Capt. John Marshall, R.N. who was a passenger, I am particularly obliged for his exertions and advice throughout the action.

To Lieutenant Alpin, who was on the main deck, and Lt. Saunders, who commanded on the fore-castle, I also return my thanks. I cannot but notice the good conduct of the mates and midshipman, many of whom are killed and many the greater part wounded.

To Mr. T. C. Jones, Surgeon, and his assistants, every praise is due for their unwearied assiduity in the care of the wounded. Lieutenant-General Hislop, Major Walker, and Capt. Wood, of his staff, the latter of whom was wounded, were solicitous to assist and remain on the quarter-deck.

I cannot conclude this letter without expressing my grateful acknowledgments, thus publicly, for the generous treatment Captain Lambert and his officers have experienced from our gallant enemy, Commodore Bainbridge and his officers.
I have the honour to be Hy. D. Chads, First Lieut. of his Majesty's late ship, Java.

PS. The Constitution has also suffered severely both in her rigging and men, having her fore and mizen masts, main-top mast, both main topsail-yards, spanker boom, gaff, and try-sail mast badly shot, and the greatest part of the standing rigging very much damaged, with ten men killed, the Commander, Fifth Lieutenant, and 46 men wounded, 4 of whom are since dead.

Force of the Two Ships

28 long, 18 pounders
16 carronades, 32 pounders
2 long 9 pounders
weight of metal, 1034 lb.
Ships company,and supernumeraries, 377

32 long, 24 pounders
22 carronades, 32 pounders
1 carronade, 18 pounder
weight of metal, 1,490 lb.
crew 480

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