Action of 1812-02-16

16th February 1812
Part of : The Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815)
Previous action : Capture of the Merinos 13.2.1812
Next action : Battle of Pirano 22.2.1812


United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

British Vessels
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Victorious (74) John Talbot (1769-1851) 27 killed, 99 wounded
Weazle (16) John William Andrew (1783-1854) No Casualties

Empire Français

French Vessels
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Le Mamelouck (16)  
L'Iéna (16)  
Le Rivoli (74) Jean Baptiste Henry Barrè (1763-1830) Captured 400 killed and wounded
Mercure (16)  † Exploded

Notes on Action

Description of the ActionW005

On the 16th of February the British 74-gun ship Victorious, Captain John Talbot, accompanied by the 18-gun brig-sloop Weasel, Captain John William Andrew, arrived off Venice, to watch the motions of the new French 74-gun ship Rivoli, Commodore Jean-Baptiste Barré, and two or three brigs of war, lying ready for sea in that port. Foggy weather made it the 21st, before Captain Talbot was enabled to reconnoitre the port. On that day, at 2 h. 30 m. p.m. the Victorious descried a brig in the east-north-east, and at 3 p.m., in the same direction, a large ship, with two more brigs, and two settees. The ship was the Rivoli herself ; the three brigs were the Jéna and Mercure of 16, and the Mamelouck of eight guns; and the two settees were gun-boats; all about 12 hours from Venice, bound to the port of Pola in Istria, and at this time steering in line of battle; the two gun-boats and one brig ahead, then the Rivoli, and astern of her the two remaining brigs. The British 74 and brig were presently under all sail in chase, and soon began to gain upon the French squadron.

At 2 h. 30 m. a.m. on the 22d, perceiving that one of the two brigs in the rear had dropped astern, and that the Rivoli had shortened sail to allow her to close, Captain Talbot hailed the Weasel, and directed Captain Andrew to pass the Victorious if possible, and bring the sternmost brig to action. Captain Andrew was so prompt in obeying the order, that at 4 h. 15 m. A.M. the Weasel overtook the Mercure, and engaged her within half pistol-shot. After the action between these two brigs had lasted about 20 minutes, the brig that had been in company with the Mercure, the Jéna, shortened sail, and engaged the Weasel distantly on her bow. Thus opposed, the latter still continued a close and well-directed fire upon the Mercure until another 20 minutes had elapsed ; at the end of which the French brig blew up. In an instant the Weasel lowered down her boats, but only succeeded in saving three men, and those much bruised. In the mean while, taking advantage of the darkness of the morning and the damaged state of the Weasel's rigging, the Jéna had made off, and soon disappeared. At daylight, however, the British brig regained a sight of both French brigs, one a short distance astern of the other; and, having by this time refitted herself, she crowded sail in pursuit, sweeping occasionally, owing to the lightness of the breeze ; but the Jéna and Mamelouck outsailed the Weasel, and kept gradually increasing their distance.

At 4 h. 30 m. a.m., just a quarter of an hour after the Weasel had begun her engagement with the Mercure, the Victorious, having a light air of wind on her larboard beam, arrived within half pistol-shot of, and opened her starboard guns upon, the Rivoli ; who immediately returned the fire from her larboard broadside, and continued, with courses clewed up, but royals set, standing on towards the gulf of Triest. A furious engagement now ensued between these two line-of-battle ships, interrupted only when, for a few minutes together, the fog or the smoke hid them from each other's view. In the early part of the action, Captain Talbot received a contusion from a splinter, that nearly deprived him of his sight, and the command of the ship devolved upon Lieutenant Thomas Ladd Peake, who emulated his wounded chief in bravery and judgment. After the mutual cannonade had thus continued for three hours, and the Rivoli, from the superior fire of the Victorious, had become unmanageable and reduced to such a resistance as two quarterdeck guns only could offer, Lieutenant Peake, by signal, recalled the Weasel, to have the benefit of her assistance, in case either ship, the Victorious herself being in a disabled state, and both ships at this time in seven fathoms' water off the point of Groa, should happen to get aground. Having bore up in obedience to the signal, the Weasel stood across the bows of the Rivoli; and, at 8 a.m., when within musket-shot distance, poured in her broadside. This the brig, wearing or tacking as necessary, repeated twice. Meanwhile the Victorious maintained a steady cannonade, and at 8 h. 45 m. a.m. shot away the Rivoli's mizen mast. In another quarter of an hour the French 74 fired a lee gun, and hailed the Victorious that she had struck. Point Legnian then bore from the latter north-north-west distant seven miles.

The Victorious had her rigging cut to pieces, gaff and spanker-boom shot away, her three topmasts and mainmast badly wounded, her boats all destroyed, except a small punt belonging to the ward-room officers, and her hull struck in several places. Out of her actual crew of 506 men and boys (60 of the men sick, but only a few absent from their quarters), she had one lieutenant of marines (Thomas H. Griffiths), and 25 seamen and marines killed, her captain (slightly), one lieutenant of marines (Robert S. Ashbridge, mortally), two master's mates, (William H. Gibbons and George Henry Ayton), two midshipmen (Henry Bolton and Joseph Ray), and 93 seamen and marines wounded; total, 27 killed and 99 wounded. The Weasel had the good fortune not to have a man hurt, either in her forty minutes' engagement with the Mercure, or her very spirited, and in all probability, not ineffective cannonade of the Rivoli.

According to the letter of Captain Talbot, the Rivoli had on board 862 men; but the French officers have deposed to only 810, including 59 men late belonging to the French frigate Flore wrecked near Venice. Out of her (taking the smallest amount) 810 in crew and supernumeraries, the Rivoli lost 400 men killed and wounded, including her second captain and the greater part of her officers. Not only had her mizenmast been shot away, but her fore and main masts were so badly wounded that they fell over her side in a few days after the action. In her hull the Rivoli was dreadfully shattered; as, indeed, the severity of her loss would indicate.

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